Former Provos claim Kerr murder and vow more attacks
A group of former Provisional IRA members have claimed responsibility for the murder of police officer Ronan Kerr in Omagh.
In their first ever public statement, the ex-Provisionals vowed to continue the IRA's campaign of violence until "British occupation" ended and Irish unity occurred.
In what represents a major split and breakaway in Provisional ranks, they said they had watched as the peace process failed to deliver republican goals, and they had now taken on the mantle of the mainstream IRA.
"The will of Irish republicans to resist the forced occupation and partitioning of our country has not been defeated," they said. "Irish republicans have continued to organise against the British presence in our country. We continue to do so under the name of the Irish Republican Army. We are the IRA."
The news comes as police revealed that a man is to be charged in relation to the murder of Constable Kerr. A 33-year-old Omagh man is due to be charged in Dungannon magistrates court on Saturday with possession of firearms and explosives with intent to endanger life and possession of articles likely to be of use in terrorism.
The republican group's announcement is highly significant because the bulk of the members are seasoned Provisional activists, aged from their late 30s to 50s, who were at the cutting edge of the previous IRA campaign.
Their range of experience and expertise represents a major upping of the paramilitary threat for the security services and the group will now be seen as the biggest danger to the peace process.
The statement was shown to the Belfast Telegraph at a meeting with a representative of the paramilitary organisation's 'chief of staff'. It was signed "chief of staff, Irish Republican Army."
Recent PSNI graduate Ronan Kerr (25) was killed when a booby-trap bomb exploded under his car three weeks ago. Until now, there had been no claim of responsibility - a rarity for republican paramilitaries. The ex-Provisionals said they had been responsible for "the recent execution of the RUC member in Omagh."
They insisted they were entirely separate from the Real IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), and the Continuity IRA - and were intent on remaining so - but were "committed to working with other republicans".
They said they had also been involved in other high-profile attacks over the past two years including the murder of two British soldiers at Massereene Army base which was claimed by the Real IRA.
They also claimed involvement in the under-car bomb which last year seriously injured PSNI officer Peadar Heffron and the bombing of the Policing Board headquarters in Belfast 18 months ago. Both these attacks had been previously claimed by ONH.
The ex-Provisional-led independent group are known to have recruited heavily in recent times. They said they were committed to more killings and bombings and "bringing our struggle to a successful conclusion through military operations."
They have formally announced their existence ahead of the traditional republican Easter commemorations. They said they didn't want to pass 'armed struggle' onto a future generation and were determined to end the conflict and achieve republican goals in their own lifetime.
But former IRA hunger-striker Tommy McKearney has dismissed the organisation's claims.
He said: "There are now so many groups claiming to be the IRA, it's becoming nonsensical. Such people are completely mistaken and misguided. There is no justification or support for any armed campaign and it will certainly not succeed."
With members across Northern Ireland, the group is led from Belfast, after which they are strongest in Lurgan, Tyrone and south Armagh. They claimed they had given the Good Friday Agreement an opportunity and had watched to see if "a peaceful route toward independence and national liberation would emerge".
Instead, republicans had experienced "scores of broken promises". The agreement had not ended "British occupation" nor created "an Ireland of equals" as Sinn Fein had promised.
They claimed "minimum reforms proposed by Patten" and the name change for the police had not altered policing.
The grouping also claimed that not one security law enacted during the Troubles had been repealed and new, even tougher laws on stop and search, and arrest and detention had been introduced.