Allegations and rumours have multiplied in Belfast following the murder of two nationalist taxi-drivers on Monday.
Father-of-five Edward Burns was found shot in the head in west Belfast early on Monday. The badly beaten body of father-of-three Joe Jones was discovered in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast a few hours later.
A third man, Damien O’Neill, was in hospital receiving treatment for a gunshot wound to the chest.
The PSNI police suggested that republican ‘dissidents’ were behind the killings, with most media speculation focussing on the Continuity IRA.
In a brief statement, CIRA refuted any role in the shock double murder. It said: “The leadership of the Continuity IRA wish to categorically state they had absolutely no involvement in the killings of Edward Burns and Joseph Jones in Belfast at the weekend.”
The INLA have also denied any involvement in the killings, which took place at a critical time in the peace process.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams urged people to pass any information about the killings to the PSNI.
“While the circumstances surrounding the two deaths is not yet clear, if they were killed, then anyone with any information should bring that information to the police and should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said.
Mr Adams’s appeal was cited by government officials as demonstrating Sinn Féin’s full support for the PSNI after a recent challenge by unionists over the party’s failure to support informers.
The mystery deepened following the failure of a security camera that might have shed light on the movements of Mr Jones and Mr O’Neill. The camera, outside the west Belfast pub where the men had been drinking on Sunday afternoon, never recorded because the PSNI had removed the system’s hard drive a week previously.
In addition, a car found burnt out on Monday morning on the outskirts of north Belfast vanished without trace by Monday afternoon.
A PSNI spokesman refused to comment on what were desribed as potential witnesses or evidence, but said there had been “tensions” among Belfast republican groups in the past week.
Meanwhile, the PSNI fired several shots in north Belfast on Wednesday evening in an incident they claimed was linked to the double murder.
The PSNI said they fired five or six shots at an unidentified man while trying to make an arrest in the case The shooting happened in the strongly republican Ardoyne area.
Locals denied claims the incident was linked to the murders.
“It was a case of the police chasing a robber from the New Lodge who they had been tailing,” said one resident.
“One of the police fired a lot of shots, which they shouldn’t have, and have been trying to cover it up by saying it is connected to the murders. It wasn’t.”
Sinn Féin has questioned why bullets were fired in a busy residential area.
North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said: “There had to be another way of apprehending this person as opposed to firing shots. We could have had another dead person in this community tonight.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Fred Cobain has defended the police.
“The police in north Belfast do an exceptional job in very difficult circumstances,” he said.
“This is a very difficult situation and there’s a lot of tension.”