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Key suspect in Kevin McGuigan murder arrested in city centre

Murder victim Kevin McGuigan (53)
Murder victim Kevin McGuigan (53) Murder victim Kevin McGuigan (53)

Police investigating the murder of Kevin McGuigan arrested a key suspect at gunpoint on a busy Belfast city centre street yesterday as shocked shoppers looked on.

Short Strand man Mark McDowell (47), who had been subject to a cross-border hunt, was held in Castle Street at lunchtime.

Passers-by watched as two police cars carrying tactical support group officers armed with automatic rifles stopped a taxi he was travelling in and removed him.

Police had previously contacted gardaí for assistance in tracing the east Belfast man who they wanted to speak to as part of their investigation into the grandfather's murder earlier this month.

It is thought the former IRA prisoner was in the Republic but had returned to arrange to hand himself into detectives through prior arrangement with a solicitor.

However, he was instead intercepted by police, who eyewitnesses said appeared to have been sitting in wait for him.

Detective Chief Inspector John McVea said: "The suspect has been taken to the Serious Crime Suite at Antrim Police Station for questioning."

The latest arrest came as the Republic's justice minister Frances Fitzgerald asked gardaí to carry out a fresh assessment of Provisional IRA activity.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has said he believes members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the McGuigan killing and that the organisation still exists, albeit not a "war footing".

The comments have sparked a major political fall-out on both sides of the border.

Mr McGuigan (53) was gunned down outside his home at Comber Court in the Short Strand by two masked men.

The shooting was thought to have been in revenge for the murder of IRA commander Gerard 'Jock' Davison, shot dead in the Markets area of south Belfast in May of this year.

Mr McGuigan had been made aware by police that he was under threat and in recent months had increased security around his home, installing cameras and building a large fence.

A former IRA prisoner, Mark McDowell was released from the Maze in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement having been sentenced to 14-years for possession of a rocket launcher.

His arrest brings to 11 the number of people held so far in connection with the Short Strand murder.

One man, Patrick Fitzpatrick from the Lagmore area of west Belfast, has been charged with possession of a weapon.

Nine others have been released without charge, including a relative of McDowell.