Police in Northern Ireland believe the so-called New IRA was behind the killing of a journalist in Londonderry in an escalation of attacks by dissident Irish republicans who reject the Good Friday peace agreement.
Lyra McKee, 29, was shot during rioting on Thursday night that followed a security operation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Fearing violence over the Easter weekend, police had raided houses searching for weapons and ammunition in the Creggan area of the city, also known as Derry.
Mark Hamilton, PSNI assistant chief constable, said 50 petrol bombs were thrown and two cars hijacked during the rioting. The force launched a murder inquiry after McKee was wounded by shots fired towards police. She died shortly afterwards in hospital.
“We believe this to be a terrorist act. We believe it’s been carried out by violent dissident republicans,” Mr Hamilton told reporters. “Our assessment at this time would be that the New IRA is the most likely to be behind this and that forms our primary line of inquiry.”
Politicians were swift to condemn McKee’s killing. Theresa May, the prime minister, described the death as “shocking and truly senseless”. She added: “She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage.”
Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, also condemned the attack. “We are all full of sadness after last night’s events,” he said. “We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past.
The New IRA has escalated its activities in recent months, claiming responsibility in March for parcel bombs sent to three London transport hubs and a Scottish university. The group was also blamed for a car bomb blast in January in Londonderry that led to the evacuation of hundreds of people from the city.
McKee, who had written for The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News among other publications, was an editor with Mediagazer, a California-based trade publication covering the media industry. Named by Forbes’ magazine as one of its “30 under 30” notable media figures, she was seen as a rising star.
Her death, on the anniversary of the historic 1998 Good Friday pact, comes amid a long political crisis in the region.
Power-sharing institutions set up under the deal have been suspended for more than two years due to a bitter row between the Democratic Unionists, the biggest pro-British party, and the Sinn Féin Irish republican party. The Good Friday deal of 1998 led Sinn Féin’s allies in the Provisional IRA to stop their paramilitary campaign.
McKee’s death comes with the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic at the centre of the Brexit row in Westminster. The most contentious part of Theresa May’s disputed EU withdrawal treaty is the backstop, an insurance policy to prevent a hard border for fear of damaging the peace in Northern Ireland.
Karen Bradley, Northern Ireland secretary in the UK government, said she was “shocked and saddened” to hear of the death. “Those responsible for last night’s violence have nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland. Their intolerable actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people who want to build a peaceful and more prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland,” Ms Bradley said.
Michelle O’Neill, deputy leader of Sinn Féin, called on the dissidents to disband. The murder was “an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.
Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, said a family had been torn apart by a “senseless” act. “Those who brought guns on to our streets in the ’70s, ’80s [and] ’90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019. No one wants to go back.”
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, expressed shock at the killing and said McKee was one of the most promising journalists in Northern Ireland. “Alongside her journalistic work Lyra had a promising future as a novelist and in a relatively short career was recognised as a bright, intelligent reporter. Faber is due to publish her book, The Lost Boys, in 2020. Her death is a major loss to journalism.”