DECEASED IRA chief Bobby Storey sanctioned the setting up of an armed vigilante group behind post-ceasefire murders of drug dealers in nationalist areas of Belfast.
Action Against Drugs (AAD) was loaned Provo-owned Glock pistols imported from America by millionaire stockbroker turned IRA gunrunner Mike Logan after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The gang was allegedly led by Roy McAuley, a relative of Storey who denies being a paramilitary.
Unlike other armed republican gangs, AAD has never targeted the security forces and is supportive of Sinn Fein's political strategy.
One of only two people convicted by a court of involvement in the vigilante group's crimes, 42-year-old Finbarr Kelly, was at the time an employee at the Tar Isteach charity for former IRA prisoners in north Belfast. He was caught with an imitation firearm and a statement from a group threatening a number of people.
AAD, along with the Provisional IRA, was linked by police to the 2015 revenge murder of republican Kevin McGuigan (right), who had been accused of shooting dead the Provo's Belfast commander Jock Davison three months earlier.
IRA director of intelligence Storey, who Provos credit with helping guide the organisation through the peace process, was arrested in connection with the McGuigan killing but later freed without charge.
Republican sources say the 64-year-old, who died last weekend after a failed double lung transplant in England, reluctantly backed the decision to kill the dad-of-nine despite knowing it would damage Sinn Fein politically.
Ex-Provo friends of Davison pulled the trigger, but the targeting of McGuigan was carried out by AAD.
What republicans say Storey was more supportive of was the decision to arm the group and for it to attack drug dealers in nationalist areas of Belfast.
In its first publicity picture, taken in 2014, masked AAD members made the mistake of posing with Glock pistols identical to those smuggled from the US by the Provos and which were held back from decommissioning.
"AAD is a Provo proxy gang, make no mistake about it, and it was set up with the blessing of Storey, who at the time was the IRA's director of intelligence," a republican source explained.
"He didn't have a hands-on role in AAD but was briefed about its activities. The link between it and the Provos is an open secret in republican areas."
AAD carried out its first murder in 2012, gunning down small-time drug dealer Danny McKay in his Newtownabbey home.
Court papers show that Roy McAuley was arrested in connection with the killing before being released without charge. He denies any involvement.
AAD went on to murder west Belfast heroin dealers Dan Murray and Joe Reilly in 2016 and 2017. It has also maimed more than a dozen other individuals, including Harry 'O' McMahon, who survived being shot in the head in 2015. Like Roy McAuley, he was questioned by police about the killing of Danny McKay, before being freed without charge.
The Provisional IRA's nurturing of AAD, while Sinn Fein publicly condemned the gang, highlights the duplicity of the 'on-ceasefire' paramilitary organisation.
At the heart of this chicanery was Storey, an enormously popular figure among those who stayed loyal to the party's strategy.
According to Provo insiders, he was constantly gathering intelligence on dissident republicans, whom he regarded with contempt.
Despite claims to the contrary, dissidents feared Storey and his reputation for ruthlessness.
He served more than 20 years in prison and masterminded what the Provos regarded as their biggest successes, including the 1983 Maze escape, the 2002 Castlereagh break-in and the 2004 Northern Bank robbery, which netted the IRA £26.5million.
In the months prior to his death, the west Belfast man was pictured looking frail and gaunt with senior Sinn Fein figures Gerry Adams and Martina Anderson.
Noticeable in the striking image were the tubes running into his nose, pumping life-giving air into his failing lungs.
He had been in poor health for some time and, after more than a year on an NHS waiting list, flew to England last week for a double lung transplant
Storey suffered complications from the invasive and dangerous procedure, ultimately dying last Sunday.
The irony of a republican icon passing away alone in England, in the so-called 'belly of the beast', was not lost on Storey's friends
The body of the veteran IRA man was returned to west Belfast on Friday ahead of his funeral this Tuesday morning.
Thousands of republicans from across Ireland are set to attend and line the route from Storey's home in the Andersonstown area to St Agnes Church for the 11am funeral service, followed by his burial in the republican plot at the nearby Milltown Cemetery. Senior republicans have been urged to make sure social distancing measures are respected.
It is understood that Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly has met with the PSNI to discuss arrangements.
Hundreds of people flocked to Storey's wake yesterday at his west Belfast home. The wake is open to mourners again today and tomorrow.
Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams described his friend's death as "a huge political blow", saying he was "loved and respected" by those who knew him.
The party's deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill added: "Bobby Storey was a lifelong republican activist, former IRA prisoner and escapee and long-standing member of Sinn Fein who played a vital role in developing the peace and political process over the past two decades.
"He was a committed, selfless comrade whose contribution to the struggle for national liberation earned him the full respect of his generation."