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Top British Spy in IRA Flees as Papers Blow Cover

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Top British Spy in IRA Flees as Papers Blow Cover

Sun May 11,10:56 AM ET

By Kevin Smith

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The British army's top intelligence agent inside the IRA, a suspect in up to 40 murders, was reported to be in hiding after several Sunday newspapers in Ireland and Britain blew his cover. Newspapers said British intelligence services had spirited the man, code-named "Stakeknife," out of Ireland just hours before the papers published his name.

As a double agent, "Stakeknife" served as the head of the Irish Republican Army's internal security unit -- known as the "nutting squad." His job was to track down, interrogate, torture and kill suspected informers in the ranks, reports said.

The man is suspected in up to 40 murders, carried out on both sides of the Irish border with the permission of his British army "handlers" to protect his position within the IRA, reports said.

A British government spokesman declined to comment on the reports. "We don't comment on security matters," the Northern Ireland Office spokesman said.

The Dublin-based Sunday Tribune, one of four newspapers to name the agent, said "Stakeknife" initially approached British military intelligence as a junior IRA volunteer in 1978 wanting revenge for a severe beating he had received from one of the guerrilla group's top Belfast members.

"It must have been the biggest stroke of luck ever for the shadowy and notorious Force Research Unit (FRU), the wing of the British army's Intelligence Corps which runs agents in the North," the paper said.

As well as passing on information as he rose through IRA ranks, "Stakeknife" was also the FRU's "fixer" for targeting figures within the organization, the Sunday Tribune said.

"If there was an IRA man they needed taken care of, or if there was an agent (working for Britain) who was past his sell-by date or was no longer useful, then Stakeknife would be used to get rid of them. He was there to do the FRU's dirty work and tie up loose ends," an FRU source told the paper.

No one from Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally, was immediately available for comment. But "Stakeknife's" exposure will likely send shock waves through Irish republican circles.

It is also likely to lead to fresh calls for a full inquiry into how British intelligence conducted its so-called dirty war in Northern Ireland.

The province has been wracked by 30 years of conflict between largely Protestant Loyalists committed to keeping British-rule and largely Catholic Republicans who want to be united with the Republic of Ireland to the south.

Several newspapers said the exposed agent, now believed to be in his sixties, had been moved to Dublin from his home in Belfast before being taken to a "safe house" in England.

The man was believed to have received a salary of around $128,300 a year from British intelligence.

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