BELFAST -- Britain sent an Irish Republican Army veteran convicted in the deaths of nine Protestants back to prison yesterday after accepting police evidence that he had resumed activities with the IRA.
The decision represented a significant warning to the IRA, which had more than 200 members paroled early from prison as part of the province's 1998 peace accord.
Among them was Sean Kelly, who was convicted on nine counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison for his role in blowing up a fish shop in a hard-line Protestant neighborhood in October 1993. Among the dead were an elderly couple and two children.
Kelly, 33, was paroled in 2000, but like the others released as part of the peace process, was warned he could be sent back to serve the rest of his sentence if he resumed IRA activity. ''I am satisfied that Sean Kelly has become reinvolved in terrorism and is a danger to others and, while he is at liberty, is likely to commit further offenses," said Peter Hain, the British governor for Northern Ireland.
Hain declined to specify the evidence against Kelly, who became the first high-profile IRA veteran returned to prison after winning parole as part of the peace process.
But Protestant political leaders accused Kelly of playing a prominent role in stoking Catholic rioting within his neighborhood of Ardoyne, northern Belfast, and praised his return to prison.
Ardoyne Catholics on Friday night attacked police and a Protestant parade with bottles and gasoline bombs -- police said 18 officers and 11 civilians were injured -- but it was not immediately clear whether Kelly participated.
Yet the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party warned that Kelly's reimprisonment was likely to stir up more violence in northern Belfast.
The area's top Sinn Fein representative, former IRA car-bomber Gerry Kelly, called Sean Kelly a peacemaker who ''has done nothing to warrant this harsh decision and should be released without delay."
The IRA admitted responsibility for the 1993 bombing, but said the deaths of the nine Protestant civilians -- as well as one of Sean Kelly's IRA colleagues -- stemmed from an unsuccessful attempt to kill commanders of an anti- Catholic group that had offices above the fish shop. The bombing heralded one of the darkest chapters in Northern Ireland history. Protestant extremists bent on revenge launched a killing spree on Catholics that left 13 civilians dead, including seven in a machine-gun massacre at a rural pub's Halloween party.
Also yesterday, Sinn Fein said it reinstated five party members suspended over the stabbing death of Robert McCartney outside a Belfast pub on Jan. 30.
McCartney's five sisters and fiancee have led an international campaign to have the killers, whom they say were IRA members, brought to justice.