'This is payback for Jock Davison' - IRA hitman Kevin McGuigan killed in a hail of bullets at his Belfast home
The father-of-eight was shot dead outside his home in Short Strand
Provisional IRA members are the chief suspects in the murder of a father-of-eight in east Belfast last night.
Kevin McGuigan was gunned down outside his home in Comber Court in the Short Strand area of the city just before 9pm.
The Provisionals had believed he was the gunman who shot dead former IRA commander, Gerard 'Jock' Davison, in the nearby Markets area in May.
Local people said they had "no doubt whatsoever" that McGuigan had been shot dead by the Provos. "This is pay-back for Jock and it is a warning to anybody else who may think of settling old scores with any IRA member," said one source.
Two masked men opened fire on the victim, believed to be in his early 50s, at close range. It is believed he was shot at least half a dozen times.
The emergency services were called at 8.55pm. Rapid response paramedics and an A&E crew were at the scene in minutes and treated the victim before he was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital in a serious condition.
'Pray for killers'
The victim's elderly mother, Margaret McGuigan (75) told the BBC today her son's killers would have to live with what they had done and said she would pray for them.
She said: "He was a loving son, father and brother. He never got in to trouble, a row, he never started a row in his life. He was a great son.
"He would do anything for anybody, neighbours and all."
She added there had been "too many murders" in the area and that she hoped her son's would be the last.
The mood in the Markets area last night was extremely tense, with a heavy police presence.
There had been a long history of confrontation between the Provos and McGuigan, who had once been one of their most experienced hitmen before he had a major fall-out with the paramilitary group.
As a member of Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD), an IRA cover group which murdered more than a dozen people, McGuigan had carried out killings with Davison. However, following a fall-out, Davison had ordered a vicious punishment attack on McGuigan who received a "six-pack" - he was shot in the ankles, knees and elbows. It was a humiliating attack on a former friend.
Sources said McGuigan protested his innocence against "charges" Davison had made against him and that he had actually held a meeting with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams to plead his "innocence" and present his case.
"He had gathered a dossier of his own evidence against Jock Davison. He was obsessed with it," a source said, "and he believed Jock was an informer".
Sources said McGuigan had met with the SDLP to discuss the activities of the IRA in the Markets and Short Strand areas.
He was born in the Markets but moved to the Short Strand when he married his wife Dolores. They had eight children. Locals said he was devoted to his family. "He lived and breathed for his children and his grandchildren," one man said. "There was nothing he wouldn't do for them.
"He was protective to the point of view that he'd go to the extreme if anybody hurt a member of his family. You'd regularly see him with his grandchildren. He spent an awful lot of time with those kids."
McGuigan's children are involved in Gaelic games and he was a regular attendee at matches across the city.
Sources said that, despite his parting of ways with the Provos, he still considered himself a republican. "He was very disillusioned with the Provos. He believed they'd sold out but he wasn't a dissident and he wasn't connected to any dissident organisation."
McGuigan was last night widely described as an archetypal hard man. "You wouldn't mess with him," said one Short Strand resident. "Hoods attacked his house once, smashed all the windows and did substantial damage and he went at them with a claw hammer. He could be extremely, extremely violent.
"But despite being that tough, he wasn't a big mouth. He was actually a quiet guy. He read a lot and he had actually learned some Russian."
McGuigan was very well built and trained regularly at the gym.
The Provisional IRA believed that McGuigan was the gunman who shot Davison as he made his way to work in a local community centre. McGuigan was relatively small and fitted the description of the gunman, who eyewitnesses said was around 5ft 6in.
Sources believed that he was fearless and ruthless enough to have killed Davison. "Kevin had nerves of steel and he despised and hated Jock enough to do it. But that doesn't mean he did do it - I haven't yet seen the Provos produce actual hard evidence."
McGuigan's fall-out with the IRA centred on a brutal attack he carried out on a man who had injured a family member. "The guy was left near dead. Kevin took no prisoners. He didn't do things by half. If riled, he went to the extreme," one neighbour said.
Given that it's on ceasefire and the political repercussions for Sinn Fein, if responsible the IRA will never admit McGuigan's murder. The killing will either go unclaimed or a dissident organisation may even claim it in order to cover the IRA's tracks.
Despite the bad blood between mainstream republicans and dissidents, several dissident groups denounced Davison's killing and "the criminal elements" who carried it out. Last week, a group styling itself Action Against Drugs vowed to avenge Davison's murder and its involvement cannot be ruled out.
But the Provos have to be the leading suspects. They desperately needed to retaliate for Davison's killing in order to prevent copycat attacks in future whereby those with grievances against the IRA took their revenge.