The murder of a father-of-nine in a suspected bloody feud between former IRA members was a “ruthless and pre-meditated” killing, a senior detective has said.
Ex-republican prisoner Kevin McGuigan, 53, was gunned down at point blank range in front of his wife Dolores by two masked men outside the couple’s home in the republican Short Strand area of Belfast on Wednesday night.
Mr McGuigan was suspected by some in the republican movement of involvement in the murder of former IRA leader Gerard “Jock” Davison in the nearby republican neighbourhood of the Markets three months ago.
This has triggered widespread speculation the murder was a revenge attack carried out by Mr Davison’s erstwhile associates in the IRA.
If IRA involvement was proven there would be major implications for the peace process.
Stormont’s First Minister Peter Robinson has warned Sinn Fein it would face expulsion from the power-sharing Executive if the IRA was responsible.
However, Sinn Fein has vehemently rejected the suggestion of IRA involvement.
On Thursday morning, a police spokesman would not comment on the suggestion that Mr McGuigan was a suspect in the Davison killing.
During a press briefing in the afternoon the PSNI officer leading the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector John McVea, revealed Mr McGuigan was spoken to by detectives probing the Davison murder – but as a witness, not a suspect.
However, he did not go so far as to rule him out as a suspect.
“I am saying the investigation team into the murder of Jock Davison would remain open minded as to who is responsible,” he said.
Earlier, he said: “I am well aware of the speculation throughout the Jock Davison investigation and what has been circulating in relation to Kevin.
“I would say that those who have that belief that Kevin was involved in Jock Davison’s murder, anybody who can link him should contact detectives at Musgrave Street (PSNI station) and tell us why they believe so and produce me the evidence to back up that claim.”
The IRA has been on ceasefire since 1997 and decommissioned its weapons in 2005.
Mr McVea said it was too early to say if any paramilitary group was involved in the murder.
“It would be reckless to speculate at this time as to the attribution of this murder,” he said.
It is understood Mr McGuigan had fallen out with former colleagues in the IRA a number of years ago.
Between then and his murder he had also been shot in a paramilitary punishment-style attack.
Around 9pm on Wednesday the two gunmen approached their victim on foot in the Comber Court area of the Short Strand and shot him repeatedly in the head and chest.
The killers, who were wearing dark clothes, ran off.
Amid fears of an escalation of violence, Mr McVea called for “calm and restraint” within the community.
“This was a ruthless and premeditated killing carried out in front of Mr McGuigan’s wife Dolores outside their home,” he said.
“Kevin McGuigan was the father of nine children. That extended family are at this moment struggling to come to terms with their loss.
“We want to bring them some solace by finding the people responsible for this brutal crime and bringing them to justice.”
Earlier, DUP leader Mr Robinson warned of political “repercussions” if it transpired the IRA shot dead Mr McGuigan.
Asked whether he was concerned about the suggestion of mainstream republican involvement, he said: “There must be concern about that.
“Obviously we want to let the PSNI carry out their investigations but we will want to talk to the police to establish whether there is any organisational involvement from the Provisional IRA, whether there was any decision that links the events of last night to the republican movement.
“If there is there will be repercussions.
“Legislation sets out the steps that should be taken but if any organisation has gone back on its ceasefire then very clearly there is no place for their representatives to be in the Executive of Northern Ireland and they should be expelled from it.”