A former IRA man, revealed as an informer in 2002 and known by the code name AA, has been accused of deliberately setting the devestating 1993 Shankill Road bomb to kill as many civilians as possible in the hope of undermining opposition to the peace process. It was considered one of the worst killings of The Troubles.
The informer’s ex-IRA comrades claim the double-agent, who had custody of the bomb overnight, “jarked” the bomb, causing it to detonate earlier than planned, not allowing the bombers ample time to evacuate the area of civilians or evacuate the area themselves.
They suggest that he increased the possibility of civilian deaths in an effort to counteract the “hawk” wing of the Provisional IRA which was opposed to an IRA ceasefire.
Further claims have emerged that the double-agent had informed police officers of the planned attack in advance, meaning they could have prevented the eight civilian deaths if they had shut the operation down.
On Oct 23, 1993 Thomas “Bootsy” Begley and Sean Kelly, two young IRA men, were sent to detonate a bomb in Frizzell's fish shop on (Loyalist) the Shankill Road in Belfast, in an attempt to assassinate the leaders of the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) who were believed to be meeting in a room upstairs.
When they entered the shop shortly after 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, however, the bomb exploded prematurely, killing Begley, UDA member Michael Morrisson, and eight civilians, including the shop owner John Frizzell, his daughter Sharon McBride, and 13-year-old Leanne Murray.
It was later revealed that the UDA meeting had been rescheduled and the targets were not in the building at the time.
Still regarded as one of the most notorious incidents in the Troubles, the Shankill bombing led to a wave of “revenge attacks” from the UDA and UVF, resulting in the deaths of 14 civilians and injuring many more.
The bomb used in the Shankill attack was reported to be a “directional” device that would explode upwards towards to the UDA meeting before they had a chance to escape but allowing enough time to take civilians out of harm’s way. The device is believed to have exploded virtually as soon as Begley placed it on the counter, however, allowing no time at all for the scene to be cleared.
As a result of the claims, the Shankill Road bombing joins a list of incidents during the Troubles being investigated by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland over alleged security force complicity. Police Ombudsman Dr. Michael Magure confirmed that his office had received complaints regarding the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s (RUC) handling of the west Belfast bombing.
In an official statement the Ombudsman's office said: “The Police Ombudsman’s Office has received a complaint which centers on two concerns: that police had information which would have helped them prevent what happened, and that the police investigation into the bombing was compromised and failed to deliver justice to the families of those who lost their lives in the attack.
“We will now be conducting enquiries into this matter.”
The man accused, known only by his security force code “AA”, was discovered to be an informant in 2002, but he has continued to live in his community. His identity was revealed shortly after the IRA raided the RUC base at Castlereagh in 2001.
During the raid, the IRA took classified, heavily-encrypted documents which supposedly reveal the commander who had been acting as an informant.
Later that year, the informer was stood down by the IRA’s ruling army council, although rank-and-file members were never given an explanation and he has avoided attention for almost two decades.
It is believed he attempted to flee the area last year until he was convinced to stay and “bluff” his way through allegations by a Sinn Féin politician.
The Independent suggests that Sinn Féin did not want bad publicity or evidence of the depth of penetration in the IRA by the security forces during the Troubles to come to light before last year’s general election in Northern Ireland.
Although “AA” is said to have been involved in a number of “successful” IRA campaigns, several of his former comrades in Belfast believe he may have knowingly maximized the risk of death or arrest on several occasions.
The two IRA men carrying the bomb had no idea it had been tampered with. Dressed as delivery men, they were to force customers out of the shop at gunpoint and place the bomb.
One former IRA prisoner said: “It would have been easily booby-trapped. Those carrying it would not have known the timer could have been altered. They would have been given 45 seconds to clear the premises and then detonate the device, giving them time to also get out, but not those upstairs who were the target. But, if it was a time-lag switch, it could have been secretly adjusted, without a doubt.”
The Independent reports that “AA” confessed to having possession of the bomb before it was handed over to Begley and Kelly. Some now claim this allowed him to prepare the bomb to detonate on entering the shop.
Another former prisoner continued to say: “Not all IRA men supported the peace process. A great many hated it. This could have been allowed to go off, it is speculated, just like Omagh, to undermine those hostile to peace. And the slaughter on the road would have led a lot of men and women volunteers to personally reconsider their own roles. It was a disaster for the ‘army’.”
The same informant is also believed to have been involved in several other IRA hiccups despite his high-ranking position.
Ex-IRA men claim he was involved in the 1989 unsolved murder of innocent father-of-three Henry Babington, mistaken as a “renegade Catholic” working for the security forces.
The Babington and Shankill Road cases are now both among the nearly 60 different Troubles incidents being investigated by the Police Ombudsman on the suspicion that security forces let them continue despite being fed information by informers.
The revelation brings forth both embarrassment for the IRA over the level at which informers were working within their ranks and harsh questions for the the state on allowing incidents to proceed after they received their information, placing innocent civilians in dangerous situations that could have been avoided.
As another ex-IRA prisoner said: “This will be totally devastating for the IRA’s credibility. It raises massive questions for the state, as to what extent it allowed its own citizens to die, who made those decisions and can they ever be made amenable.
“But for the IRA the questions will now start to re-emerge as to what extent volunteers and supporters were sacrificed by agents in the ranks, and what has the IRA done to rectify this, if anything?”
A major review of inquests began in Northern Ireland last week involving 97 deaths in 57 of the most controversial deaths and killings in the Troubles.
The Police Ombudsman is currently investigating the complaints.