The drug dealer suspected of ordering the gangland murder of ex-IRA chief Jock Davison has gone into hiding in fear of his life.
Cops have been unable to track down the career criminal, whose father was shot dead by the Provos in the 1990s.
Now senior republicans fear that they could be targeted next by criminals with police warning Eddie Copeland, who was once named in Parliament as an IRA godfather, and Shankill bomber Sean Kelly that they are under threat.
IRA chiefs know the name of the major drug dealer who paid for a professional hitman to gun down Davison, 47, as he walked to work in the Markets area of south Belfast almost a fortnight ago.
The murder was in revenge for the former Provo boss shooting dead the criminal’s father in the 1990s. In the hours after Davison’s brutal death, the drug dealer who ordered the killing went into hiding.
The 50 cops working on the case are desperately trying to trace the crime baron. Police fear that if republicans catch him first they will kill him.
Pals of Davison, who were in the IRA with him, have approached senior Provos and demanded they sanction a revenge murder. But their pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears leading to a bitter fall-out.
The situation was made worse on Thursday when leading republicans Eddie Copeland, Sean Kelly, and Brendan McElkerney, who
was once questioned about the Northern Bank robbery, were all told by police that they are under threat from criminals.
A senior republican source said: “Jock’s murder has caused huge problems within the movement.
“If we don’t hit back we will look weak and leave ourselves open to more attacks from criminal elements.”
Like senior IRA figures, detectives working on the Davison case believe the major drug dealer paid the professional hitman a five-figure sum to murder the former IRA Belfast ‘OC’ and head of the Direct Action Against Drugs vigilante gang.
They also believe he arranged for the killer, who escaped on foot, to go to a safehouse in the Markets in the minutes after last week’s fatal shooting.
The gunman then calmly walked out of the south Belfast housing estate and into the city centre.
Security sources told Sunday Life that up to three people were involved in Davison’s murder.
Our source added: “The problem we have is that there is only one witness who cannot identify the gunman because it was raining heavily and he had a hood pulled up over his face.
“There are no forensics and little by way of CCTV footage despite the Markets being surrounded with cameras.”
Police investigating the murder have made an appeal about a potential altercation Davison may have had recently.
Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway said: “I am keen to speak to anyone who may have any information in relation to any recent incidents, including a potential altercation involving the victim.”
Davison — an IRA gunman who personally pulled the trigger in at least two murders — was buried last weekend following a funeral attend by a hundreds of republicans including Bobby Storey and Spike Murray.
Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were told to stay away because of comments they made in the wake of the IRA’s 2005 murder of Robert McCartney, about which Davison was questioned but never charged.
Friends of dad-of-three Davison, all of the ex-Provos who still have access to weapons, have vowed to kill the three people involved in his death.
Dissident republican groups ONH and the New IRA, which both sent members to last weekend’s funeral, have also promised to take out the same three men.
Fearing revenge the drug dealer suspected of ordering Davison’s murder has now gone into hiding — some sources say he is now in Spain.
Police have so far arrested and released unconditionally three men in connection with Jock Davison’s murder.
The officer heading the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway, described it as “very challenging”.