Police in Northern Ireland released Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in accordance with a Sunday deadline after four days of questioning in the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville. His file will now be sent to the public prosecutor in Belfast.
Adams, 65, had been in police custody since Wednesday for questioning over allegations that he was the Belfast commander of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1972 and ordered McConville, a Belfast widow and mother of 10, to be killed.
Police faced a Sunday deadline either to charge or release Adams, or else seek a judge’s permission to extend his detention – an option they took Friday when an initial deadline was due to expire.
Sunday’s outcome – release without an official exoneration, with evidence in his file now being sent to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland – suggests that police do believe Adams was an IRA commander, but do not have strong enough evidence to charge him.
Prosecutors taking up the case in Belfast could decide either that a case against Adams would not succeed based on existing evidence, recommend new avenues of investigation or determine that charges can be filed.
A member of parliament in the Irish republic, Adams has been dogged throughout his career by accusations from former IRA fighters that he was involved in its campaign of killings, a charge he has repeatedly denied. Adams also denies being a member of the outlawed IRA.
Sinn Fein said detectives questioned Adams this week about audiotaped interviews with IRA veterans who made such claims against him as part of an oral history project at US-based Boston College.
Police last charged Adams with IRA membership in 1978 following a firebomb attack on a hotel near Belfast that killed 12 Protestants, but those charges were dropped.
The IRA abducted, killed and secretly buried McConville. It did not admit responsibility until 1999, when the underground organisation defended its action by claiming she had been a British Army spy.
McConville’s remains were found accidentally in 2003 near a Republic of Ireland beach. A 2006 investigation by Northern Ireland’s police complaints watchdog found no evidence she had been a spy.
Adams' arrest – weeks ahead of elections in both parts of Ireland – infuriated his Irish nationalist party, which represents most of the Irish Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and is a growing left-wing opposition force in the Irish Republic.
Sinn Fein warned it could withdraw its support for law and order in Northern Ireland, a threat condemned Sunday by the Protestant leader of the province’s power-sharing government, First Minister Peter Robinson.
Speaking Sunday before news of Adams’ likely release, Robinson accused Sinn Fein of mounting “a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail” the police.
“I warn Sinn Fein that they have crossed the line and should immediately cease this destructive behavior,” Robinson said, suggesting that the future of Northern Ireland’s government was at stake.
Robinson’s Democratic Unionist Party agreed to share power with Sinn Fein in 2007 on condition that the IRA-linked party accepted police authority. A former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness, serves as deputy leader.
Such cross-community cooperation following four decades of bloodshed was the central goal of the US-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998.
Robinson accused Sinn Fein of hypocrisy by demanding criminal investigations of killings committed by Protestant militants, the police and British Army, but not of the IRA, which killed nearly 1,800 people during its failed 1970-1997 campaign to gain independence from the United Kingdom for Northern Ireland.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-05-04