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Shooting death suspects 'dinosaurs'
6:21pm Friday 18th April 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Dissident republican suspects in the killing of one of their former commanders in Belfast are "dinosaurs trapped in the past", the city's Lord Mayor said.
Ex-Continuity IRA (CIRA) figure Tommy Crossan, 43, was shot dead at a fuel depot in the grounds of an industrial complex in full view of surrounding houses. Three gunmen may have carried out the killing and a red BMW car was found on fire nearby.
A priest attended to pray over the bloodied victim in West Belfast, an area long known as a republican heartland but which has been relatively peaceful in recent years following the end of the IRA campaign in 1998.
Relatives gathered in tears at the scene, their devastation visible to onlookers.
First citizen Mairtin O Muilleoir of Sinn Fein said the killers existed in the dark margins of society but could not slow the pace of change in Belfast.
He claimed: "They are dinosaurs trapped in the past and I urge everyone to work with the police to remove them from our streets."
Crossan was once the CIRA's Belfast leader but was believed to be the subject of a death threat and had been expelled from the group some years ago after a fall out.
He served time in prison for conspiracy to murder Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers following a gun attack on a police station in West Belfast in 1998.
The CIRA has opposed the peace process which largely ended three decades of violence and transformed Northern Ireland. Crossan was killed on the 16th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which mandated political power-sharing at Stormont.
CIRA gunmen murdered Police Constable Stephen Carroll in Lurgan in Co Armagh in March 2009 but the organisation has since been riven with splits, security sources have suggested.
Friday afternoon's attack happened at the Peter Pan Centre in Springfield Road, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said. Detectives have launched a murder investigation and are combing the scene for forensics clues.
Mr O'Muilleoir told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight: "There are some micro groups of criminals masquerading under an assortment of republican labels. They have no support within the community.
"I wouldn't under any guise brand them 'professional' but they certainly are killers... They have nothing to offer to the people of Belfast."
He said t here was a whole assortment of factions, and fractions of factions, of dissident republicanism and added every week produced another schism.
"Sadly they clearly have access to guns and they have murderous intent and they are willing to kill those with whom they disagree."
The largely-nationalist area of Belfast where the shooting happened is mainly comprised of tightly-packed terraced housing estates and businesses.
Nationalist SDLP councillor Colin Keenan said it was a horrific scene.
"We have long hoped that the shadow of death had been lifted from West Belfast.
"Today's event is a terrible, tragic reminder of the violent conflict of the past."
The Springfield Road, one of the main arterial routes, was closed to traffic.
A PSNI spokeswoman said: "Detectives from Serious Crime Branch have launched a murder investigation after a man was shot dead in the Springfield Road area of West Belfast."
Members of the security forces have been on high alert for attacks by various extremist factions who have also killed two soldiers and a prison officer.
In recent weeks they have stepped up efforts to kill police officers, with several attacks on the force in West Belfast.
After the murder of prison officer David Black on the M1 motorway in November 2012, police mounted an unprecedented surveillance operation against various factions as well making significant arrests.
Sinn Fein Stormont Assembly Member Jennifer McCann said t hose behind Crossan's killing had no consideration for anyone in the community except themselves and their own criminal agenda.
She added: "They have shot a man dead and endangered anyone in the immediate vicinity.
"There is now a family in mourning and a community traumatised by this shooting.
"It will not go unnoticed that, with sadness, at Easter time as republicans gather to commemorate their patriot dead, that there are criminals on the streets masquerading as republicans for their own ends.
"This community does not want them. They need to listen to this community, stop these senseless actions and go away."
David Ford, Northern Ireland's justice minister, said the murder should be condemned by all.