Irish Republic in shock after bodies of young men thought to be small-time dealers found tortured, butchered and burned in Dutch flat
John Mullin Ireland correspondent
The Guardian, Saturday 6 May 2000 02.02 BST
Police in the Netherlands were last night still struggling formally to identify three young Irishmen butchered in an expensive apartment near the Hague in an apparently drug-related massacre.
The Irish Republic, in the grip of a bloody turf war over the burgeoning drugs trade, is in shock. Although speculation suggests that the men, at most small-scale dealers, fell foul of Colombian or eastern European drugs gangs, fears are growing that Irish drugs barons are responsible.
The men, all in their 20s and from the west of Ireland, were tortured and then shot. Their bodies were piled in the bathroom, doused in petrol and set on fire to conceal evidence.
Two bodies were dismembered with knives. One is believed to have contained cavity filler, used to fill gaps between walls and window frames.
A police source said: "The victims were badly burned. They were mutilated and unrecognisable."
Detectives in the Netherlands are embarrassed at their failure at first to realise that the men were murdered rather than victims of a blaze early last Saturday in the fifth floor flat at Scheveningen, a well-heeled seaside resort five miles from the capital. They fear they have missed vital evidence.
Dental records and blood samples from relatives were among material passed to Dutch police yesterday. But it might be Monday before they can officially confirm the victims' identities.
They found amphetamines and a tablet-pressing machine in the flat. They believe two of the men were manufacturing amphetamines and ecstasy. The third was visiting his elder brother on holiday.
One of the victims was known to the garda national drugs unit. But detectives are working on the theory that they were small dealers who got out of their depth.
The Netherlands is the vital source of supply of most drugs to the republic. Gardai and Dutch police have conducted 16 operations against drugs criminals in both countries in the past six months.
One theory yesterday was that the two men, to boost their own operations, passed information to gardai about rivals' shipments. There were two major interceptions recently.
Among five passports found in the charred remains of apartment 1058 were those of the three victims. Although convinced of their identities, Dutch police have not formally named them.
Damien Monaghan, 25, was the eldest of 11 children from a housing estate in Cloughleigh, Co Clare. He moved to the Netherlands six years ago, and rented the two-bedroom flat last year. It cost £600 a month, expensive by Dutch standards.
Monaghan lived with Vincent Costello, 29, from Bansha, near Cahir in Co Tipperary. Costello had been in the Netherlands for two years but returned home regularly.
His younger brother Morgan, 22, who worked in a meat plant at Cahir, was visiting him on a week's holiday. His parents and three sisters had expected him home on Tuesday.
Dutch police are also desperate to trace Vanessa Cope, 27, from Newry, Co Down, and are liaising with the RUC as well as garda. Her British passport was with the four Irish passports found, and they fear she too has been murdered.
But one of the passports, that of John Nunan, 27, from Fermoy, Co Cork, turned out to be stolen. Mr Nunan, who reported it missing two years ago, was eliminated after speaking to gardai on Thursday.
The three executions bring the republic's drug-related murder toll to 20 in as many months. Republican paramilitaries have been involved in several of the killings, most recently last weekend.
The latest tally compares with 11 drug-related murders in the two years before the shooting of the journalist Veronica Guerin in June 1996. Gangs were then trying to expand their empires after the assassination in August 1994 of the crime boss Martin Cahill.
The killings stopped when tough legislation was passed after Ms Guerin's death. Armed with new powers, garda broke up the drugs gang she had been investigating. It has big operations in Amsterdam.
But the officers' success left a power vacuum. Would-be barons are vying again to take over parts of the highly lucrative trade, sparking violent confrontations.
Irish detectives say some murders are related to turf wars. Other victims are accused of double-crosses.
Two of the most horrific recent killings were of Darren Carey, 20, and Patrick Murray, 19, minor criminals working as couriers. They had flown to Amsterdam to collect £30,000 worth of heroin, but Murray was arrested on his way home last November.
Police seized the drugs. Their boss, a notorious figure in Dublin's underworld, was furious. Murray was kidnapped, stripped, tortured and shot in the back of the head. Carey was also killed. Their bodies were found in the Grand Canal, near Newcastle, Co Dublin, three months ago.
Paramilitary murders are mostly seen as "punishment" attacks, cracking down on drugs use, a policy which has won republicans strong support in many badly afflicted inner-city areas. But some dealers are thought to be executed over a failure to hand over a cut of their takings.
The Irish National Liberation Army last Saturday shot dead Pat Neville, 31, a father of six, in Dublin to avenge the machete murder of its volunteer Patrick Campbell, 22, who died in the city last October after a brutal fight with a drugs gang. The INLA claimed that it had been seeking to stamp out drugs use, but detectives instead suggested the fight began after a row over money.
The IRA is suspected of killing Tommy Byrne, 41, a drugs dealer, six days ago, shooting him in the head as he drank outside a Dublin pub. But it appears he was murdered for fighting with the IRA's officer commanding in Dublin, rather than to make an example of him over his criminal activities.
The IRA last year killed two Northern Ireland drugs barons, Brendan Fegan, 24, and Paul Downey, 37. They were big ecstasy dealers. The Dutch police, the Garda and the RUC, aided by Interpol, are expected to investigate any links between them and the men murdered in Scheveningen.