updated 5/21/2008 8:44:17 PM ET 2008-05-22T00:44:17

An Irish Republican Army veteran was charged Wednesday night in connection with the slaying of an undercover British soldier 31 years ago — one of Northern Ireland's most bitterly debated killings.

Kevin Crilly, 57, was arrested Tuesday in a predawn raid on his border home, where he had been living under an alias.

Northern Ireland police said in a statement that Crilly was charged with the abduction and false imprisonment of Capt. Robert Nairac, a British intelligence officer who posed as a Belfast IRA member. Crilly would be arraigned Thursday, it said.

Nairac, 29, was overpowered by an IRA gang as he sought to gather information on the outlawed group in its border power base of South Armagh. He traveled alone and, as part of his cover, sang IRA songs in English and Gaelic in local pubs.

Six other IRA members have already served prison sentences for their part in overpowering Nairac outside a pub in May 1977, taking him across the border into a Republic of Ireland forest, interrogating him and shooting him in the head. His body was never found.

Media investigations have identified Crilly as the IRA driver that night.

Crilly went on the run after Nairac's killing but returned from the United States following Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord. That pact offered early paroles for IRA convicts and a de-facto amnesty for any IRA members subsequently convicted of pre-1998 crimes.

The law means that Crilly, if convicted, could expect to receive parole within months.

While the IRA killed more than 700 British soldiers during its 1970-97 campaign, Nairac was the only one who disappeared.

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