A new breed of terrorist is coming through the ranks in Northern Ireland, the detective leading the hunt for Lyra McKee’s killers said.
Police last night released without charge two men, aged 18 and 19, who they suspect are members of the dissident republican New IRA involved in shooting the promising young journalist in Derry on Thursday night.
A gunman aiming for police hit the 29-year-old in the head. He fired indiscriminately during disturbances in the Creggan estate.
Floral tributes have been piling up at the lamppost where she fell, including one written to “beautiful Lyra”, from her partner, Sara Canning.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Superintendent, Jason Murphy, said terrorists are lurking in the shadows, frightening and holding to ransom those whom they claim to represent.
“What we are seeing is a new breed of terrorist coming through the ranks, and that, for me, is a very worrying situation,” he said.
He said there has been a sea-change in community attitudes towards the gunmen, demonstrated in people’s revulsion at Ms McKee’s killing.
The New IRA is an amalgam of armed groups opposed to the peace process and it claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to London and Glasgow in March.
Mr Murphy conceded there remains fear of reprisals from the shadowy gunmen for giving information to police.
“Individuals continue to exert influence over communities, not just in the Creggan, but in other parts of the communities, as well. This intimidation and fear create a real concern for local residents to come and talk to us, as police officers.
“The individuals responsible for Lyra’s murder continue to hide in the shadows,” he said.
He said her murder was not just an attack on Ms McKee, but on “the fabric of this community”.
He added: “Lyra’s killers have succeeded in only one thing, and that is in uniting the entire community in condemnation.”
Police believe the violence was orchestrated in response to an earlier search by officers hoping to avert imminent trouble associated with this week’s anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
Around 50 petrol bombs were thrown in the confrontation and two cars were burned-out.
Former US president Bill Clinton, whose administration played an integral peace process role, tweeted: “Heartbroken by the murder of Lyra McKee and the violence in Derry.
“The challenges in Northern Ireland today are real, but we cannot let go of the last 21 years of hard-won peace and progress. This tragedy is a reminder of how much everyone has to lose if we do.”
Standing beside the pile of floral tributes, Ms McKee’s friend Kathleen Bradley said she was a breath of fresh air, when she moved from Belfast to the city to be with her partner.
“Lyra’s legacy, I think, will be opening all our eyes to what we should have got as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, the ceasefire babies’ generation,” Ms Bradley said.
“Lyra’s legacy will be, in this town, that guns don’t solve anything, guns should never be used for anything, and her legacy will be that we will keep her name and spirit going amongst us.
“A very clear message has been given, from not only the people of this town, but wider afield, to say that this is not okay, this is not acceptable, this is not justifiable. It has to stop, nothing is worth a life: nothing.”
Meanwhile, Ms Canning is among those appealing for witnesses to share information with police investigating the shooting.
“If anyone has any footage or information about the murder of my amazing Lyra McKee, please please post it here,” Ms Canning said on Facebook, adding a link to a police portal.
She added: “Nobody deserves to be gunned down; nobody should have to go home without the one they love. No family should lose their child.”