Leading dissident republican Colin Duffy's arrest on IRA membership charges came after months of surveillance by a specialist police team investigating a DOZEN murders.
Sunday Life can reveal that the unit was set up in the wake of the November 2012 killing of prison officer David Black by the New IRA which Duffy, 46, was arrested and questioned about.
Since the horror M1 motorway shooting the Lurgan-based republican has been under 24-hour watch from the PSNI and MI5.
And at least 12 Provo murders, some of which Duffy has previously been publicly connected to, are currently being re-examined by cops.
These include the 1998 IRA abduction and killing of cigarette smuggler Kevin Conway in Aghalee.
Last Wednesday Gary Marshall, 45, appeared in Craigavon Magistrates' Court charged with murdering Conway.
The dad of four was shot dead because he tried to muscle-in on an IRA illegal cigarette racket in Lurgan's Kilwilkie estate.
Marshall — the man charged with the ruthless execution — is a close pal of Duffy, who was with his brother Sam Marshall when he was murdered by loyalists in 1990.
Before freeing Gary Marshall on bail totalling £6,000 the court heard there was “new forensic evidence” linking him to the case.
The specialist PSNI unit which has been monitoring Colin Duffy is still investigating him for the Conway murder.
Experienced detectives drafted into the team have spent the past 12 months reviewing the original exhibits and forensic evidence.
The fresh probe was sparked after Sunday Life exclusively revealed last year that Duffy's name was all over Special Branch intelligence files that identified him as one of Conway's killers.
The documents were made public during the inquiry into the 1999 murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson by the LVF. The high-profile lawyer acted on behalf of Colin Duffy until she lost her life in a brutal car-bomb.
One intelligence document written by detectives in 1998 about the Kevin Conway murder states: “Colin Duffy organised and participated in the abduction and murder”.
Another reveals: “Conway was working for PIRA in the importation/distribution of cigarettes. He recently crossed Duffy over profits gained from these ventures.”
Small-time criminal Conway was babysitting his 14-week-old son when he was taken from his home in Lurgan's fiercely republican Kilwilkie estate in February 1998.
He was brought to a derelict building near Aghalee and blasted in the head.
Because the horrific execution took place two months before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement anyone convicted of it will have to serve just two years in prison. A dozen other IRA murders that occurred between 1989 and
1997 are being re-examined by specialist cops who are also investigating Colin Duffy.
They all took place in the greater Lurgan area and include:
l The killings of gun-store owner Roy Metcalfe, and UDR men Colin McCullough and Iain Warnock;
l The 1990 Lough Neagh duck-hunting atrocity in which four friends, two of whom were off-duty cops, were gunned down;
l The murder the same year of RUC reservist Wilfred Wethers;
l The killings of Catholics Denis Headley and Ian Lyons in the town;
A security source with knowledge of the Duffy surveillance team said: “He had become a creature of habit over the past number of months.
“Sometimes he would stay overnight at addresses in the Ardoyne area and other times he would drive back to Lurgan.
“Surveillance teams from MI5 and the Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRS) were watching his every move.”
Our source explained how Colin Duffy would regularly use a park to meet with his closest friends.
The insider added: “As a result, the PSNI, MI5 and SRS decided they needed to hear what he was talking about.
“Up to a dozen high-powered listening devices were secretly planted overnight in the park.
“They were strategically placed at various points around the park so they could listen in on his conversation. “Everything he talked about was picked up on the microphones, recorded and transcribed.’’
As well as mounting an unprecedented surveillance operation on Colin Duffy the specialist PSNI team probing his activities has also been looking at his friends.
Among this group are former IRA blanket-man Alex McCrory, 52, and 45-year-old republican Harry Fitzsimmons.
McCrory is often seen by Duffy's side and was photographed with him during a parade protest in Ardoyne last year. Riots broke out later that evening.
He was also pictured with him during the summer at the funeral of Republican Sinn Fein and Continuity IRA chief Ruairi O'Bradaigh.
Last Tuesday McCrory and Fitzsimmons appeared in the dock of Belfast Magistrates' Court charged with attempting to murder members of the PSNI in a gun attack on the city's Crumlin Road earlier this month.
They are also accused of possession of a with intent to endanger life.
Along with Duffy, shaven-headed McCrory and Fitzsimmons are charged with conspiracy to possess firearms and explosives with intent to endanger life, conspiracy to murder and IRA membership.
All three refused to stand-up during proceedings at Belfast Magistrates' Court and were remanded in custody.
New IRA have assault rifles
A new IRA assault rifle recovered by cops after a failed murder bid in north Belfast earlier this month was one of six smuggled into Northern Ireland by the republican gang.
Sunday Life can reveal that leaders of the dissident group recently purchased six ‘clean’ Kalashnikov-style weapons to use in a fresh terror campaign.
The first time a gun from the batch was used was in Ardoyne on December 5 when a New IRA member opened fire on a police patrol travelling up the Crumlin Road.
In his panic to escape he dropped the prized machine-gun which was later recovered by police.
This newspaper understands that a second Kalashnikov hidden in a house nearby was also discovered during follow-up searches.
A security source said: “Intelligence indicates that the New IRA has recently acquired a batch of high-powered rifles to use in a new campaign.
“Two have been recovered, but a further four are believed to be out there.”
Belfast republicans Alex McCrory, 52, and Harry Fitzsimmons, 45, appeared in court last Tuesday charged with possessing the gun used in the December 5 Ardoyne attack.
They were remanded in custody along with Lurgan dissident Colin Duffy, 46, who is accused of IRA membership and conspiracy to murder members of the security forces.