Catholic postal worker killed by gunman in north Belfast; outlawed group claims responsibility

Saturday, January 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A Catholic postal worker was shot and killed as he arrived for work in Belfast on Saturday, and an outlawed Protestant group claimed responsibility.

The 20-year-old man was shot several times outside a Royal Mail sorting office in north Belfast's largely Protestant Rathcoole area just before 5 a.m., police said. He died two hours later in a hospital.

Two men with scarves pulled across their faces were seen fleeing the scene in a silver Renault that was later found abandoned nearby, police said.

A group called the Red Hand Defenders said it had carried out the killing. Police consider the name a front for members of Northern Ireland's largest illegal paramilitary group, the Ulster Defense Association, and of other illegal Protestant groups.

``At the end of a sickening week, this is the most sickening event of all,'' said Alban Maginness, a north Belfast member of Northern Ireland's assembly, who represents the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party.

The killing followed a quiet night in the divided Ardoyne area of the city, after two nights of rioting in which hundreds of Catholic and Protestant youths hurled fire bombs, acid bombs and stones at police trying to keep them apart. More than 80 police officers were injured.

This week's violence flared near Holy Cross, a Roman Catholic primary school at the center of sectarian clashes last fall.

For months, Protestants blocked the road and shouted insults at Catholic schoolgirls and their parents. They claimed Catholics had attacked their homes in the bitterly divided area.

The protests ended in November after hundreds of police officers, backed by British soldiers, were deployed to protect the children.

The school was closed Thursday but reopened Friday with a heavy police presence and no sign of demonstrators. Protestant groups said they did not plan to resume the protests.

Police said they would increasing their presence in the Ardoyne area to prevent further violence and to protect Catholic teachers. Rioters smashed teachers' cars in the parking lot of another Catholic school this week, and Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said police had received phone threats against teachers, purportedly from violent anti-Catholic groups.

Politicians across Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland condemned the violence and Saturday's killing.

``Another young man has had his life cruelly and brutally ended and another family has been devastated by evil people,'' said Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid. ``We cannot let those who cling to hate-filled violence cast Northern Ireland back into the darkness.''