Lyra McKee shooting: Journalist, 29, killed in 'terrorist incident' during riots in Derry
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Lyra McKee shooting: Journalist, 29, killed in 'terrorist incident' during riots in Derry

TRIBUTES have been paid to a 29-year-old journalist who was shot dead during rioting in Derry last night.

Lyra McKee, who was originally from Belfast but had recently moved to Derry, died after being hit in the head by a stray bullet fired towards police amid unrest in the city's Creggan estate late on Thursday.

Police have described the murder as a "terrorist incident" possibly carried out by dissident republican group the New IRA.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the "horrendous, unneccessary and unjustified act" was "not only a murder of a young woman, but an attack on the people of the city".

He added: "Our assessment at this time is that the New IRA are most likely to be the ones behind this and that forms our primary line of enquiry."

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Ms McKee worked as an editor for California-based news site Media gazer, a trade publication covering the media industry.

In 2016, Forbes Magazine named her one of their 30 under 30 in media and she had been working on a new book which was due to be published in 2020 at the time of her death.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the killing was "shocking and truly senseless", adding: "My deepest condolences go to her family, friends and colleagues. She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage."

Sinn Féin's leader in the north, party deputy Michelle O'Neill, condemned the "senseless loss of life" and called on those responsible to "disband immediately and end their pointless actions against the community".

She said Ms McKee's death was not only a tragedy for her family, but also "an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement".

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Ms O'Neill added: "I unreservedly condemn those responsible for killing this young woman.

"We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry.

"We remain united in our determination to building a better and peaceful future for all".

DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted: "Heartbreaking news. A senseless act. A family has been torn apart.

"Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019. No one wants to go back.

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"My thoughts are also with the brave officers who stood in defence of their community."

In the Republic, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called on the disturbances in Derry – which broke out on Thursday evening – to end.

"The Government condemns in the strongest possible terms the fatal shooting of journalist and writer Lyra McKee in Derry," Mr Varadkar said.

"We are all full of sadness after last night's events. We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past."

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Tánaiste Simon Coveney added: "The news from Derry is shocking and tragic. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Lyra McKee today. I call on anyone with information to come forward to the PSNI.

"There is no justification for this tragic loss of life and I call on those intent on violence and disturbances to stop."

Meanwhile, the UK's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said she was "shocked and saddened" by the news and offered her thoughts and condolences to the McKee family.

In a statement, Karen Bradley continued: "Those responsible for last night's violence have nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland.

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"Their intolerable actions are rejected by the over whelming majority of people who want to build a peaceful and more prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland."

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said he was "shocked" by the killing as he paid his own tribute to Ms McKee.

Shots fired

Trouble broke out on Thursday night as officers carried out a search operation aimed at disrupting dissident republicans ahead of this weekend's commemoration of Irish independence.

During the disturbances, more than 50 petrol bombs were thrown at police and two cars were hijacked and set ablaze.

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A gunman fired a number of shots at police, one of which hit Ms McKee in the head.

Fellow journalist Leona O'Neill, who was at the scene, said she called an ambulance for Ms McKee in the moments after the shooting.

She tweeted: "I was standing beside this young woman when she fell beside a police Land Rover tonight in Creggan #Derry.

"I called an ambulance for her but police put her in the back of their vehicle and rushed her to hospital where she died.

"Just 29 years old. Sick to my stomach tonight."

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Mobile phone footage purporting to be from the scene shows at least two shots being fired before a distant scream is heard.

"They've shot someone up there," a male voice says on another clip, which has not been verified but appears to have been taken in the vicinity of Fanad Drive in the Creggan estate.

Easter unrest

The unrest comes ahead of an Easter weekend which will see republicans mark 103 years since the 1916 Easter Rising as well as the 70th anniversary April 18, 1949 – when Ireland officially became a Republic.

Sky's senior Ireland correspondent David Blevins said tensions had been building in Creggan in the run-up to Easter, telling Sky News: "There was some disorder last Easter when dissident republicans, who are opposed to the peace process, organised an illegal parade there.

"Earlier this week, they said police would be to blame for any disorder this year and warned what they called 'British crown forces' not to saturate the area.

"Despite the fact that we are 21 years past the Good Friday Agreement, 26 years into the terrorist ceasefires in Northern Ireland, dissident republicans, renegade republican groups still oppose the peace process and the threat level posed by them has never been deemed less than severe in Northern Ireland.

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"Remember, just two months ago they detonated a car bomb in this very city."