Northern Ireland police extended the detention of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams by two days to give detectives more time to question him about the 1972 murder of a mother-of-10, raising the stakes in a case that has rocked the British province.
Adams' arrest over the killing of 38-year-old widow Jean McConville is among the most significant in Northern Ireland since a 1998 peace deal ended decades of tit-for-tat killings between Irish Catholic nationalists and mostly Protestant pro-British loyalists.
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein member and close Adams ally, said the decision by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to seek an extension confirmed his view that the arrest was politically motivated.
"There is a cabal in the PSNI that has an agenda, a negative and destructive agenda to both the peace process and to Sinn Fein," McGuinness told a news conference in Belfast.
The decision extends Adams' detention at a police station outside Belfast until 7pm today. Adams, who led the IRA's political wing in the 1980s and 1990s, must then be freed or charged unless police can convince a judge to agree to an additional extension.
McGuinness said it might be difficult to contain anger among Irish nationalists about Adams' detention. "We believe that the anger and resentment out there among the community is something we as Irish republicans have to manage. We are trying to handle this situation in a very calm way," he said.
Northern Ireland's justice minister, David Ford, who is also the leader of the non-sectarian Alliance Party, rejected McGuinness' accusation that police were unfairly targeting Sinn Fein.
"In the four years I've been minister for justice, I've seen no evidence of the police playing politics but I've certainly seen much evidence from many politicians seeking to interfere in the policing, prosecution and judicial process," he said.