Belfast man charged with trying to kill Sinn Fein leaders

Michael Stone was tackled Friday at entrance to Stormont Parliamentary Building in full view of journalists and TV cameras.

michael stone 88 (photo credit: )
michael stone 88
(photo credit: )
The Protestant extremist who forced the evacuation of the Northern Ireland Assembly has been charged with attempting to murder Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and the unarmed guards who blocked his way. Michael Stone, who was tackled Friday at the entrance to Stormont Parliamentary Building in full view of journalists and television cameras, was arraigned Saturday in Belfast Magistrates Court on five charges of attempted murder. He also was charged with possession of weapons for terrorist purposes, including explosives, several nail bombs, an ax, a strangulation device and a fake handgun. State prosecutors said Stone was charged with attempting to kill Adams and McGuinness, the two senior figures in the Irish Republican Army-linked party, and the two security guards who confronted him at the Stormont entrance. The fifth count of attempted murder was a blanket charge of "persons unknown" intended to cover everyone else in the building, including the entire 108-member assembly. Stone, 51, offered no plea during the 10-minute hearing, during which he was flanked by a half-dozen armed police officers. Stone walked stiffly and slowly with the aid of a cane, reflecting his advanced arthritis. But as he was being escorted from the dock, Stone denounced ongoing efforts to forge a cross-community administration led by the Protestants of the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, the major Catholic-backed party in Northern Ireland. Such power-sharing was the central aim of the US-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998. The assembly debate Stone interrupted Friday was focused on whether Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley would accept a nomination to the top power-sharing post. The British and Irish governments had long billed Friday as the final deadline for a deal. But Paisley refused, citing Sinn Fein's refusal to accept the authority of the Northern Ireland police force. Britain nonetheless welcomed Paisley's statement because he didn't rule out accepting the post in the future. "No sell-out! No power-sharing with the Sinners!" Stone said, using the common Belfast shorthand for Sinn Fein. "They are war criminals! Ulster is not for sale! No surrender!" Detectives pressed the attempted murder charges against Stone after questioning him overnight at the police's main interrogation facility in Antrim, west of Belfast, during which police said he openly boasted of his desire to kill Adams and McGuinness. Magistrate Bernadette Kelly ordered Stone held without bail until his next court appearance Dec. 22. Ulster Television on Friday broadcast its most recent interview with Stone - recorded three weeks ago on a park bench outside Stormont - during which Stone recounted his desire to kill Sinn Fein leaders as well as the current London mayor, Ken Livingstone, a veteran Sinn Fein supporter. "I regret not having assassinated Adams, McGuinness and, to be honest, I regret not having assassinated Ken Livingstone," Stone told Ulster Television. Stone has been an icon of Protestant extremism in Northern Ireland since March 16, 1988, when he staged one of the most bizarre and high-profile attacks in the four-decade conflict over this British territory. Stone, armed with three handguns and pockets filled with grenades, single-handedly attacked more than 20,000 mourners at an IRA funeral being officiated by Adams, McGuinness and other Sinn Fein leaders. He killed three people, including an IRA member, and wounded about 60 others before running out of bullets and grenades. Mourners came close to beating him to death before police intervened. As on Friday, his actions were filmed and broadcast internationally. Stone received sentences totaling more than 700 years after being convicted of six murders, including for three other shootings, all of which he openly discussed with police interrogators. He was paroled from prison in mid-2000 as part of the Good Friday pact, which permitted more than 500 convicted members of truce-observing paramilitary groups to walk free on condition they not become involved in violence again. Britain's Northern Ireland Office confirmed Saturday its legal advisers have drafted a revocation order requiring Stone to resume serving his previous sentence _ a move virtually certain to confine him to Maghaberry Prison, west of Belfast, for several years at least, regardless of the new charges he faces. During his parole, Stone sought publicity both for his terrorist past and for his burgeoning career as an artist. He offered confessions for other killings, but police said they suspected he was a fantasist or exaggerating his involvement. Earlier this year, Stone provoked revulsion and fascination in equal measure when he appeared on a British television program to meet the widow and brother of a Catholic man he had helped to kill. During the discussion, which was moderated by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Stone defended his decision to conduct surveillance on the man, but insisted that someone else had shot him dead. He refused to express regrets about the man's death, arguing that he believed he was an IRA member. But when he said he wanted to apologize for causing them grief and offered his hand, the widow recoiled in disgust and ran from the room.