Irish National Liberation Army Says It Has Disarmed

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The Irish National Liberation Army, a ruthless IRA splinter group responsible for some of Northern Ireland's most notorious killings, said it has surrendered its weapons just days before an Anglo-Irish disarmament deadline is due to expire.

Two representatives of the outlawed organization told The Associated Press on Saturday that the INLA handed over weapons stockpiles to Northern Ireland's disarmament commission at secret meetings in November and January. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they could face arrest if identified.

The INLA weapons surrender is expected to be confirmed Monday by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, an expert panel that Britain and Ireland formed in 1997 to oversee the disarmament of several illegal groups based in the British territory of Northern Ireland.

The pace of paramilitary disarmament has picked up over the past year after Britain and Ireland announced their intention to shut down the commission this month. A law permitting paramilitary figures to hand over weapons without risk of prosecution is scheduled to expire Tuesday.

Disarmament commission spokesman Aaro Suonio said he could not confirm or deny whether the INLA had surrendered weapons recently.

From 2001 to 2005, the commission oversaw the gradual disarmament of the Irish Republican Army — by far the most elaborately armed group during the three-decade conflict over Northern Ireland. Two outlawed British Protestant groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Association, have disarmed over the past year. The INLA is the last truce-observing group to make the move.

The INLA killed more than 110 people from its 1974 foundation to its 1998 truce. In the decade since, its members have killed or wounded more than two dozen people, mostly criminal rivals.

In October, the INLA announced it had renounced violence and would disarm.

The breakaway gang was born amid bloody internal feuding within IRA circles in the mid-1970s. INLA leaders proclaimed devotion to Marxism and hostility to the burgeoning political realism of some IRA leaders.

It sought to overtake the IRA as the major anti-British paramilitary group and, for several years, its high-profile killings did upstage the much larger IRA.

The INLA also played a little-recognized role in the threshold event of Northern Ireland's conflict: the 1981 hunger strike in the Maze prison near Belfast. Of the 10 inmates who starved to death in a bid for "political prisoner" status, seven were IRA and three INLA.

The INLA gained international attention in 1979 when it assassinated a British lawmaker within the grounds of Parliament in London. Its booby-trap bomb killed Airey Neave, the Northern Ireland adviser to Margaret Thatcher, as he drove his car out of the parking lot.

In 1982, the group, then under the command of former IRA hit man Dominic "Mad Dog" McGlinchey, bombed a Northern Ireland disco frequented by British troops. Eleven soldiers and six civilians were killed and 30 others wounded when the building collapsed.

The following year the INLA machine-gunned a rural Protestant gospel hall during Sunday service, killing three worshippers and wounding seven, including the organist.

But the INLA devoted much of its time to waging fratricidal feuds. Colleagues ousted and killed a succession of commanders, including McGlinchey in 1994, who was shot 14 times point-blank in front of his teenage son.

The last major INLA killing was the 1997 assassination inside the Maze prison of Billy "King Rat" Wright, an iconic figure among Protestant militants. Wright's murder — by INLA prisoners using two smuggled handguns — spurred his followers to slay eight Catholic civilians in retaliation.

After the British and Irish governments and rival Catholic and Protestant parties achieved Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace accord of 1998, the INLA announced it would observe an open-ended truce — not because it supported the landmark pact, but because it recognized the dying public support for "armed struggle."