The senior Sinn Fein politician in Northern Ireland's unity government yesterday demanded the immediate release of his party leader, Gerry Adams, saying police were seeking to extend his interrogation over the Irish Republican Army's 1972 killing of a Belfast mother of 10.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the police's continued questioning of Adams. The 48-hour detention period was set to expire last night, but McGuinness said he expected police to receive a judge's permission to extend it.
McGuinness accused "a cabal" of officers within the Police Service of Northern Ireland of pursuing "a negative and destructive agenda to both the peace process and to Sinn Fein."
Police arrested Adams on Wednesday night as a suspect in the IRA abduction, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville. Under British anti-terror law, suspects must be charged or released within 48 hours, unless police receive a judicial extension.
McGuinness said Wednesday's arrest and unexpectedly long detention of Adams were designed to tarnish Sinn Fein's image and damage its prospects in local council and European Parliament elections taking place in both parts of Ireland this month.
"This is a very, very serious situation," said McGuinness, a former IRA commander who has jointly led Northern Ireland's power-sharing government alongside British Protestants since 2007. "I believe that Gerry Adams will be totally and absolutely exonerated, and Gerry Adams will continue to lead this party."
Adams, who as Sinn Fein chief since 1983 is Europe's longest-serving party leader, denies any role in the IRA. But former members who spoke on tape to a Boston College-commissioned research project say he was the outlawed group's Belfast commander in 1972 and ordered the killing and secret burial of McConville, a widow who was branded by the IRA as a British army spy.
McConville's eldest daughter, who has led a two-decade campaign for the truth, says she's praying for a murder charge - and is prepared to name publicly those IRA members she believes stormed into their home on the day of her mother's abduction.