Army 'aware in 1972 of specific IRA unit behind Disappeared'
The Army knew about the IRA gang responsible for the majority of the so-called Disappeared before it had even killed its first victim, it has been claimed.
'The Unknowns' are believed to have been behind the abduction, murder and secret burial of at least 15 people.
Now documents have emerged that indicate military intelligence knew about the unit months before it started its campaign, which left families without the remains of their loved ones, in some cases for decades.
West Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville was murdered by the IRA and secretly buried across the border just before Christmas in 1972. Her remains were not found until 2003.
Journalist Ed Moloney has reported that a military file recently unearthed from the National Archives in Kew reveals Army commanders were aware of the IRA unit as early as April 1972.
This was around four months before the first of the Disappeared cases, that of Joe Lynskey, who was shot and buried in an unmarked grave. The IRA did not admit his murder until 2010. A fresh search for his remains is ongoing in Co Meath.
Mr Moloney published the military document on Sunday on his website, www.thebrokenelbow.com.
It details a log of incidents compiled at Army headquarters, dated April 25, 1972, including a report of an armed robbery carried out by three men, apparently members of an IRA unit that, at 9.28am on that day, was intercepted by soldiers who arrested the trio and recovered one pistol.
The robbery was in Manor Street in the Oldpark district of the city but the precise target was not identified.
The document describes one of the men as: "vol 'the Unknowns'", i.e. a volunteer in 'the Unknowns'.
Mr Moloney reports: "This suggests that not only did the military know about 'the Unknowns' but may have been aware of the unit's membership. The man's full name and address is being redacted by www.thebrokenelbow.com for his safety.
Mr Moloney told The Guardian newspaper: "The revelation that the British military had enough knowledge of the unit to quickly identify one of its members begs some obvious and potentially difficult questions for Whitehall: how and what did the Army know about the unit, did they have a source inside the Unknowns and, crucially, what, if anything, did the military know about the IRA's practice of disappearing people?"
The remains of 13 of the Disappeared have been recovered.