DUBLIN (AP) — A senior Irish Republican Army hard-liner was shot to death Friday in Belfast three years after former comrades in his splinter group threatened to kill him.
Residents say gunmen escorted the victim, 43-year-old Tommy Crossan, to a fuel depot overlooked by houses and shot him in the head and body at close range. He appeared to know he was about to be executed, a longstanding practice in IRA circles, and a Catholic priest was called to give the victim the Last Rites.
While no group claimed responsibility, police and politicians blamed Crossan's former group, the Continuity IRA, of following through on 2011 death threats against him. The killing could be timed to two events: the Belfast peace accord of 1998, which was achieved on Good Friday, and Easter, which is the most important event of the year for Irish republicans. From Saturday to Monday, various factions of the IRA will honor their dead in cemeteries across Ireland and recall the Easter Rising of 1916, the Dublin rebellion that inspired the creation of the first IRA. Each faction's leaders take the opportunity to proclaim their group the one, true IRA.
Crossan spent five years in prison for a 1999 gun attack on a Belfast police station. While behind bars, he served as commander of the Continuity IRA prisoners, and had a pot of scalding water poured on him by British Protestant prisoners.
In 2008, he received a suspended sentence for the attempted extortion of a businessman. A year later, Continuity IRA colleagues accused him of using their organization as a front for a Belfast robbery spree. They also contended he had been seen meeting British intelligence agents in a Protestant part of Belfast, a claim that typically comes with a death sentence.
Crossan rejected the accusations and vowed not to flee his native Catholic west Belfast. "These liars are trying to criminalize me and drive me from my home. But I'm here to stay," Crossan told an Irish tabloid, the Sunday World, in 2011 following the death threat. He said he'd never help the police or British intelligence agents. "Informers are traitors. They're the lowest of the low," he said.
The major IRA faction, the Provisionals, renounced violence in 2005, but other factions — chiefly the Continuity IRA and another group that media have dubbed the New IRA — continue to plot attacks. Police say both groups regularly mount robberies, run illegal rackets and extort money from criminal rivals.
Crossan's death was the first IRA killing in Northern Ireland since October, when the New IRA killed a Belfast drug dealer. That victim reportedly had paid a New IRA figure protection money, but refused to make a second payment.