DUBLIN (AP) — Northern Ireland police arrested two suspected Irish Republican Army militants Friday on suspicion of killing an off-duty prison officer, a rare slaying that has inspired political condemnation across Britain and Ireland.
The two men aged 44 and 31 were arrested at their homes in Lurgan, a power base for IRA die-hards opposed to Northern Ireland peacemaking. Police said the elder suspect is Colin Duffy, the most prominent Irish republican in Lurgan, who has successfully defended himself against a series of murder charges dating back to 1993. A gunman in a passing car shot a 52-year-old prison guard, David Black, as he drove to work Thursday on Northern Ireland’s main highway. Police said Black was hit by several bullets, then his car plunged off the road into a ravine.
The attackers’ getaway car was found, abandoned and burned out, in nearby Lurgan. Black was the first prison officer to be killed in the British territory since 1993, the year before the major outlawed paramilitary groups on both sides began open-ended truces that blossomed slowly into a successful peace process. None of Ireland’s IRA splinter groups has claimed responsibility for the killing. But they have repeatedly threatened to kill prison staff as part of their campaign to rattle Northern Ireland with sporadic violence.
Over the past year, more than 40 jailed members of various IRA factions have waged a bitter protest inside Black’s workplace, the high-security Maghaberry (pronounced Muh-GAB-ry) Prison midway between Lurgan and Belfast, and analysts say Black’s killing could signal the start of a new effort to target off-duty guards. Unlike police and British soldiers, most guards are not supplied handguns for personal protection. The prisoners seek an end to the guards’ policy of strip-searching them for weapons parts, drugs and cell phones, all of which were smuggled into Maghaberry before the strip-searching policy began. Prisoners are tossing their feces into the halls or smearing them on their cell walls, aping an IRA prison-protest tactic of the 1970s.