A brutal response to the jail dispute, but this killing will not change a thing

The source used the word “surprise”. He was thinking out loud about the decision to carry out a gun attack on the motorway.
He was thinking that around his own home David Black would have been more alert, more watchful for anything suspicious.
But in his car driving to work at that hour of the morning, his mind would have been elsewhere, his defences down.
Those who killed him had their targeting homework done.
They knew his routine, the where and when of his movements; where he would be most vulnerable, and the quickest escape route for them to the point where they would dump their car.
These things are worked out, and there is always a reason behind the action, a method in the murdering madness, however unjustifiable it might be.
Was this murder about sending a wider message to other prison officers that nowhere is safe, nowhere out of bounds in terms of an attack, that no one is beyond their killing reach?
These are terrorists’ mind games — shoot one officer and you frighten and threaten many others.
The background to this attack is found in that long-running prisoner protest inside Maghaberry Prison where David Black worked. That row is about strip-searching and yesterday’s shooting came as alternative technology that could end the practice is being considered and tested. The dissidents didn’t wait for results and outcomes.
The question and the focus now will turn to which faction planned and executed this attack.
Dissident terrorism is a muddled world, a place of competing factions, egos and personalities. Every group has prisoners involved in that jail protest — the Continuity IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) and the new dissident coalition calling itself the IRA. Inside the jail and outside there are tensions. The dissident groups don’t like the prison system of searches and tight control on movement and association, but they don’t like each other either.
So, part of this will have been a bid for the first strike — a shooting in support of the protesting prisoners, delivering a message that one group in particular cares more about their grievances.
Across the Northern Ireland community the vast, vast majority of people will view what happened with utter outrage, as a cold, pointless murder in a phoney war.
But in that dissident world, and in the places of the continuing war games, this type of killing at this time will be supported. It is as cold as that.
But will it change anything? Will it force the prison authorities to buckle? The answer is no, for this reason.
The ghosts of a prison past still haunt the authorities, those times when they conceded too much ground to republican and loyalist prisoners inside the Maze and suffered the humiliation of escape and murder behind bars.
Concessions won’t be delivered under threat. The shooting will not force a policy collapse on searching.
But yesterday’s killing is a reminder of the threat. It was one of those rare occasions when the gunmen came in under the radar. One of those times when the intelligence world didn’t see or hear.

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