CRIME

Irish drug gangs fighting turf war from Dublin to the Costa del Sol

Ireland hotel shooting shows extent of feud between groups with strong Spanish links

Police remove the body of David Byrne from the Regency Hotel in Dublin.
Police remove the body of David Byrne from the Regency Hotel in Dublin.CLODAGH KILCOYNE / REUTERS

At 2pm last Friday afternoon, three men armed with Kalashnikovs walked into the Regency Hotel in Dublin disguised as Irish police special forces. They proceeded to the stage area where boxer Jamie Kavanagh was posing for the cameras at the weigh-in ahead of his fight with Portugal’s João Bento the next day. The WBO European lightweight title bout, which was subsequently canceled, had been dubbed The Clash of the Clans. For once, the hype was to match reality. Their target was 32-year-old David Byrne, who worked for a Costa del Sol-based Dublin gangster. The gunmen opened fire, causing panic in the room as people tried to flee or ducked for cover, killing Byrne and wounding several others.

At least six people took part in the shooting, including a man armed with a revolver who accessed the area disguised as a woman

The Irish police say the shooting is the latest incident in a long-running feud between two of Europe’s bloodiest gangs over the control of Ireland’s heroin, cocaine and pills trade. And it is a fight that is also taking place in Spain. The gunfight at the Regency – one more of hundreds of gangland killings that have taken place in Dublin over the last 15 years – has exploded amid the campaign for the Irish general election on February 26.

Security cameras in the hotel’s reception area show the gunmen, who were unidentifiable, wearing balaclavas, helmets and bullet-proof jackets. The attack was carried out with military precision. At least six people took part, including a man armed with a revolver who accessed the area disguised as a woman, wearing a gray dress and blonde wig.

Byrne’s killing was allegedly ordered by Gerry Hutch, also known as the Monk, who police suspect of controlling the drugs supply in the north of the Irish capital. In the opposite corner of this bloody clash of the clans is Christy Kinahan, who police say runs the drugs trade in the southern half of Dublin from his base on the Costa del Sol. In the middle are their hired guns, who have unleashed an increasingly bloody war. Among the victims is Gerard Kavanagh, the father of the would-be European lightweight, who was killed in a shootout two years ago in Spain.

The war erupted again when Gary Hutch, the 34-year-old nephew of the man who runs the north side of Dublin, was gunned down next to the swimming pool of an apartment block in Marbella in September. The police suspect Kinahan ordered the killing of the younger Hutch, a convicted drug trafficker, after an argument over a deal with South American criminals. The Monk, the victim’s uncle, swore vengeance.

The Irish police say the Regency shooting was a simple act of revenge. The Monk may recently have teamed up with a Scottish gang based in Spain that intends to take over Kinahan’s Spanish operations.

A new twist to the story came on Monday morning when the BBC received a call from a man saying he was a member of the so-called Continuity IRA, claiming that the organization, which has refused to give up the armed struggle to create a united Ireland, was responsible for the attack. The caller said Byrne’s murder was in retaliation for his involvement in the death four years ago of Alan Ryan, a member of another dissident IRA faction, adding that more killings would follow “against drug traffickers and criminals.” The BBC says it has been unable to verify the identity of the caller. On Monday evening, another supposed spokesman for the Continuity IRA issued a statement denying the organization’s involvement in Byrne’s death.

For the moment, the police say they are not ruling anything out, but still believe the shooting was part of the long-running turf war.

A heavy police presence in Dublin was unable to prevent retaliation, and on Monday evening, four armed men burst into a house in the north of the city and pumped five shots into a man that the Irish Independent has identified as a 50-year-old taxi driver named Eddie Hutch, the brother of Gerry “The Monk” Hutch.

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