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'Top spy in IRA' is named

IRA mural
"Stakeknife" was said to be in charge of vetting all the IRA's new recruits.

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SPECIAL REPORT
• Overview: Breaking the cycle
• Profiles: Key players
• Timeline: Decades of violence

LONDON, England -- A man said to be the top British spy inside the IRA has been named by at least four Sunday newspapers in the UK and Ireland.

The alleged mole, codenamed "Stakeknife," who once headed the Provisional IRA's "Internal Security Unit" and was a member of its general headquarters staff, was reportedly in hiding after his identity was exposed in the papers and on websites, the UK's Press Association said.

As the British government's most powerful weapon in its 30-year "Dirty War" against republicans, he is suspected of being allowed by a shadowy Army intelligence unit to get away with up to 40 murders, it was claimed in the Sunday newspapers.

With London's Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens now examining the agent as part of his inquiry into alleged security force collusion with loyalist killers in Northern Ireland, speculation about his identity had reached fever pitch in Belfast.

But the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald, the Sunday Tribune in Dublin and editions of the Sunday People and Sunday World on both sides of the Irish border have all named a man they claim to be the army's most valued informer on IRA operations.

A Northern Ireland Office spokeswoman refused to discuss the disclosure.

"We wouldn't comment on anything of an intelligence or security nature," she said.

Stakeknife has lived at addresses both in Belfast and Dublin -- but the Sunday People tabloid reported him to be at a safe house in England.

The top spy was in charge of the IRA's so-called "Nutting Squad" -- which was tasked with tracing down informers -- and head of its northern command security for almost two decades, it was claimed.

He is said to have been involved in the killings of loyalists, policemen, soldiers, and civilians to protect his cover so he could keep passing vital intelligence.

He also kidnapped, interrogated, tortured and killed other IRA men suspected of being British informers.

Stakeknife was also said to have provided his military handlers with the information which led to the so-called "Death On The Rock" killings of three IRA volunteers in Gibraltar in 1988 by the SAS, according to the Sunday Herald in Glasgow.

At the time, the IRA was convinced that their active service unit had been betrayed by an informer. But its mole hunt drew a blank.

Files based on intelligence from the double-agent were forwarded to Prime Ministers Thatcher, Major and Blair, the newspapers said.

The "Stakeknife" reports emerged just weeks after Sir John published his findings of collusion between police and soldiers and loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland.

Up to 20 members of the security forces, both serving and retired, may face criminal prosecutions as a result of his report.

The man named as "Stakeknife" was reported to have been a low-level informant in the IRA's west Belfast brigade before being subjected to a punishment beating by the terrorist grouping during the late 1970s.

Distrustful of the police, he offered his services to the British Army before he rose through the ranks of the Provisional IRA.

As "Nutting Squad" chief he vetted every IRA volunteer recruited into the organization for nearly 20 years, it was claimed.

The names of every Provisional member was in the hands of the covert army outfit which recruited the agent -- the "Force Research Unit" (FRU).

It has been widely reported that "Stakeknife" was saved from death by FRU army handlers who allegedly redirected his loyalist assassins to 66-year-old west Belfast pensioner Francisco Notorantonio.

These claims are now at the centre of the latest stage in Sir John's 14-year probe into the murky world of double agents in Northern Ireland.


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