A SENIOR detective investigating the dissident republican murder of drug dealer Kevin Kearney says the gangland-style killing was “callous and cold-blooded”.
Mr Kearney was found shot dead in a lake at Alexandra Park in north Belfast on Wednesday afternoon.
A dissident republican group, calling itself the ‘New IRA’ has claimed responsibility for the murder.
It claimed the “execution” was carried in response to complaint from “our community.”
And it issued a warning to other drug dealers to “desist immediately” from plying their “vile trade”.
PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway, who is heading up the murder inquiry, said that Mr Kearney “was known to the police”.
“Kevin was known to us for previous offending.
“But what I want to make clear is regardless of Kevin’s lifestyle, regardless of his previous offending, there is no justification whatsoever for someone to shoot him dead as they did.”
It is understood the victim dropped his daughter off at school on Tuesday morning, and returned home and took his dogs for a walk in Alexandra Park.
He was wearing dark clothing and distinctive bright blue trainers.
Detectives involved in the murder hunt say he was shot at around 9.15 am on Tuesday.
However, he wasn’t reported missing until Tuesday evening when he had not returned home.
Police have appealed for information on a silver Peugeot 406 car, registration number GNZ 8168.
It was found burnt out in Dunore Court in the New Lodge area of north Belfast at about 09:30 on Tuesday morning.
Detectives also want to hear from anyone who was in the park between 08:30 and 09:30 on Tuesday.
DCI Galloway added: “We are aware of the claim of responsibility and that is forming part of my investigation and it is a line of inquiry.
“Kevin has been going about his normal routine so there is an element of targeting. He has been shot in a callous and brutal way.
“It is important that we identify witnesses, recover the firearm that was used, and we can only do that with the cooperation of the people of north Belfast, which I have to say to date has been fantastic.”
The murder has been condemned by local politicians.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said that the local community is shocked about a murder inquiry in the area.
The DUP MP said: “The police have confirmed that a body was found this afternoon in the water at Alexandra Park.
“The body was found in suspicious circumstances and the police have launched a murder investigation.
The entire community will share in the sense of shock at this appalling news. I understand that the identity of the deceased is known to the police.
“Our thoughts are with the family of the deceased. I appeal for anyone who can assist the police investigation to pass on whatever information they have,” he added.