| RA Shaken as British Double Agent Unmasked
Mon May 12,10:49 AM ET
By Alex Richardson
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - The unmasking of Britain's top spy within the Irish Republican Army (news - web sites) (IRA) has sent shockwaves through one of Europe's most feared guerrilla organizations.
Revelations that Alfredo "Freddy" Scappaticci was working for the British at the same time as running the IRA's ruthless internal security unit will shake IRA morale, but also pose awkward questions for authorities in London and Belfast.
"There's a lot of anger (within the IRA) of course, that this guy, who was involved in a lot of operations, was passing information across," Belfast-based political commentator Brian Feeney told Reuters on Monday.
For years the identity of the man known until now only by the codename "Stakeknife" has been the source of intense speculation in Belfast. On Sunday he was named on Web Sites and by several newspapers.
It was not immediately clear who is behind the leaking of his identity, although another disgruntled former agent had been threatening to name Stakeknife in recent weeks.
Scappaticci's home in a staunchly republican district of west Belfast was deserted on Monday. He was reported to have fled to England although the IRA's political ally Sinn Fein later said it had been told he was still in Belfast.
Former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, now a writer and critic of the peace process strategy pursued by the IRA and Sinn Fein, said the revelations were "potentially devastating" for the republican movement.
"If it's true that Stakeknife was the head of internal security then it's a major coup for the British -- it would mean they have been steering republican strategy for years," he said.
But Feeney, author of a history of Sinn Fein and the IRA, said the damage was limited by the fact Scappaticci was just a gunman, and not involved in the political side of the republican movement's struggle against British rule in Northern Ireland.
"In some respects there is an element of relief, because there have been repeated allegations about Stakeknife, but the implication always was that this was a senior figure who may have had something to do with the peace process," he said.
According to media reports Scappaticci learned torture tactics in Libya in the 1980s where the IRA trained alongside other guerrillas from the Palestinian movement and Africa.
He was also said to have provided information that helped British special forces track down and kill three unarmed IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988.
Coming a month after a report by London's police chief John Stevens accused elements of the security forces of helping pro-British Protestant "loyalist" guerrillas kill Catholics, the Stakeknife revelations raise fresh questions about the shadowy actions of Britain's intelligence forces in Northern Ireland.
It is alleged Scappaticci was a suspect in more than 40 killings and that his handlers may have allowed innocent people to die to preserve his cover.
"What's coming out here is that the British government and British intelligence services were manipulating the situation on the loyalist side and on the republican side," Danny Morrison, former Sinn Fein publicity director and an ex-IRA prisoner, told Irish state broadcaster RTE.
"They were being told things to such an extent that they could have peoples' lives taken, innocent lives taken or combatants executed and they had us at each other's throats."