Loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland have issued threats against journalists working for two Belfast-based newspapers, the owners have said.
A number of reporters working for the Sunday Life and Sunday World were visited by police officers in the early hours of Friday morning with warnings of imminent attacks by the South East Antrim UDA – a breakaway UDA group.
At least one journalist was told of a planned under-car booby trap attack and the warnings also said journalists at the two Sunday titles – both owned by Independent News and Media (INM) – were at risk of attack.
The development comes just weeks after the first anniversary of the New IRA murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry.
The PSNI is taking the threat seriously and officers have been in contact with the journalists.
It is understood the threats emanate from the breakaway South East Antrim UDA.
Police have confirmed they are in receipt of information that indicates a planned and co-ordinated campaign of intimidation.
This is a vile attempt to intimidate editors, journalists and publishers. .Seamus Dooley
Peter Vandermeersch, publisher at INM, said: “We will, of course, work with the police to ensure our staff’s safety.
“Threats against journalists should not be tolerated in any free society.
“Today marks the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany and an important element in that victory was ensuring freedom of speech for subsequent generations.
“It is depressing that thugs still believe they can silence the press through intimidation.
“The Sunday World and Sunday Life will continue to publish stories that shed light in dark corners.”
The loyalist terror gang continues to be involved in criminality and has been linked to several murders in recent years.
The gang has murdered three people in the past three years.
Members of the South East Antrim UDA have been linked to the murder of Glenn Quinn, 47, in January who was found in his flat in Carrickfergus.
It is understood the threat has been linked to the papers’ coverage of the murders and paramilitary activities.
Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said: “This is a vile attempt to intimidate editors, journalists and publishers.
“It is the latest in a series of threats in Northern Ireland against journalists but is all the more sinister because it is a blanket threat against two newspapers, titles which have served the people of Northern Ireland fearlessly and often in the face of threats.
“The NUJ, and through us the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), extends support and solidarity to all journalists employed by the group, for whom this is a distressing time.
“In a week in which we marked World Press Freedom Day this is a grim reminder of the threats faced by many journalists across the globe by those who have reason to fear a free, independent and questioning press.
“This threat should be lifted immediately and unequivocally by the South East Antrim UDA. We appeal to anyone who may be in a position to influence these people to immediately intervene.
“While these paramilitaries are trying to intimidate journalists and their families, key workers – including journalists – are making huge sacrifices for their communities.
“Key workers are working long hours to save lives, treat the sick, keep people informed, stock shelves and maintain supply chains. The PSNI should not have to deal with such threats at this time.
“The NUJ will continue to support any journalist who faces threats. The officers of the NUJ’s Belfast and district branch and the wider membership of the NUJ in the UK and Ireland stand united in solidarity.”
In 2001 Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan was murdered by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) paramilitaries.
The loyalist group targeted the journalist as he walked home with his wife. No one has ever been convicted of his murder.