New York, October 1, 2001—Martin O’Hagan, a 51-year-old investigative journalist with the Dublin newspaper Sunday World, was shot dead outside his home in the Northern Irish town of Lurgan late Friday, CPJ has confirmed.
O’Hagan was shot several times from a passing car while walking home from a pub with his wife, who was not hurt in the attack.
The vehicle in question was found on fire not far from the crime scene.
“We are shocked at the brutal murder of our colleague Martin O’Hagan,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We condemn this crime and call on relevant authorities in Northern Ireland to investigate the case aggressively.”
O’Hagan, who worked in the Belfast office of the Sunday World, was an Irish Catholic journalist who had become well known for his coverage of Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups.
More than 20 years ago, before he became a journalist, O’Hagan was convicted of running guns for the Irish Republican Army and served five years in prison. But he later turned away from radical politics, studying sociology at the Open University and the University of Ulster and then entering journalism as a free-lancer for local newspapers. In 1989, he was kidnapped and interrogated by IRA militants who tried unsuccessfully to force him to divulge his sources for articles about the IRA.
The journalist coined the nickname “King Rat” for the Protestant paramilitary leader Billy Wright. While O’Hagan had received threats from Protestant militants in the past, it is not clear if he had been threatened prior to the shooting.
In an interview with the BBC, O’Hagan’s editor, Jim McDowell, described the murder as a blow to press freedom in Northern Ireland.
“He was a journalist who never stood back in life. If there were issues to be addressed, then he did it,” McDowell said.
Inquiry focuses on paramilitary group
Police initially identified the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) as a primary suspect. Prior to his murder, O’Hagan had been working on several stories about the LVF, the BBC reported.
The day after the murder, however, the Red Hand Defenders, another Protestant militant organization, claimed responsibility for the slaying in a phone call to the BBC. The caller claimed that O’Hagan had been assassinated for “crimes” against Protestant paramilitaries, according to international press reports.
Although civil strife has been raging between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland for more than three decades, O’Hagan is the first journalist to fall victim to the conflict, according to CPJ research.