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Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams Arrested Over Jean McConville Death

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has been arrested by Northern Ireland police on suspicion of involvement in a 1972 murder.
Image: Jean McConville with three of her children
Jean McConville, left, with three of her children before she vanished in 1972, as detectives are investigating the IRA murder of Belfast mother-of-10.PA Wire/Press Association Images via AP file

Intelligence and law enforcement sources in London and Belfast confirm to NBC News that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has been arrested in connection with the 1972 murder of a widowed mother abducted that same year.

Adams' arrest comes as a result of “The Boston Tapes,” a powerful series of confessional recordings made on the basis that they would not be released until the death of the Irish dissidents interviewed, authorities tell NBC News.

Court decisions in the United States led to their subsequent release to authorities in Northern Ireland. Adams was a key figure in the Irish peace process, who received substantial fame in the United States as a result of his role.

Gerry Adams, President of the Sinn Féin political party, on March 27, 2014 in London, EnglandOli Scarff / Getty Images

Adams was arrested after he surrendered by pre-arrangement at a Belfast area police station where all major crime cases are processed, Northern Ireland law enforcement officials told NBC News.

“He was arrested at 8 p.m. our time,” one source said.

“The Sinn Fein issued a statement saying Adams was meeting the Police Service of Northern Ireland this evening, that isn’t exactly the case,” said one source.

Adams has been placed under arrest in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, 37, a widow and a mother of 10 who was abducted, killed and buried in secret on a beach by Irish Catholic militants in 1972.

Her body was only recovered in 2003 on a beach in County Louth.

Adams' arrest follows a series of about six arrests over the past two months, all as a result of the tapes, sources said. One of those arrested, Ivor Bell, 77, has been charged last month in connection with the murder.

Authorities say the information used as the basis for the Adams arrest came from the tapes without any additional corroboration from the others hauled in.

“It would be wrong to say that. Most of them have just come in, turned and sat facing the wall.”

New York Congressman Peter King said Adams played an important role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

“He was more instrumental than anyone (to peace in Northern Ireland,)” said King. “The political implications of this when there is growing tension in Northern Ireland anyway … this will only add to it.”

King added, “There are several ironies in all of this. If it is based on the Boston College tapes then you have an unrepentant hardliner making these allegations."

The allegations are made by Dolours Price, an associate of Adams during the 1970s.

“I’ve known Gerry Adams over 30 years. I’ve never known him not to tell the truth, you may not agree with him but he was always truthful. George Mitchell, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, amongst others always said they could trust Adams to keep his word,” King said, referring to the more than four-year-long process during which the Irish peace accords were finally carved out.

“He never promised more than he delivered. He did this all at considerable risk,” King added, referring to the risks Adams took in brokering peace when hardline members of the IRA refused to put down their guns.

According to a Boston College news release, the tapes that led to Adams' arrest were released by the institution after it was served a subpoena by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) - requesting two tapes that were recorded as part of the University’s Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

“The oral history project, which was directed by author and former Irish Times journalist Ed Moloney, and overseen by Executive Director of Irish Programs and University Professor of History Thomas E. Hachey and Burns Librarian Robert K. O’Neill, contains dozens of personal accounts from individuals on both sides of the violent struggle that engulfed Northern Ireland between 1970 and 1998, including former members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The subpoena requests tapes of recordings of former IRA members Brendan Hughes, who died in 2008, and Dolours Price, who were interviewed for the project by republican Anthony McIntyre under the assurances of confidentiality. Tapes of conversations with former UVF members in Northern Ireland recorded by loyalist Wilson McArthur were not requested in the subpoena,” the news release noted.

A Boston College spokesman said the institution had no comment on the arrest.

“We are not privy to the actions of British law enforcement and have had no involvement in the matter since the U.S. Court issued the order to remand portions of the archived interviews last year. As a result, it would be inappropriate to comment on this issue,“ the statement read.

King added, “If they want to start reexamining everyone’s position, including members of the British government, they are going to open up a lot of old wounds."

Jean McConville, left, with three of her children before she vanished in 1972, as detectives are investigating the IRA murder of Belfast mother-of-10.PA Wire/Press Association Images via AP file
—Jonathan Dienst contributed to this report.