Belfast, Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland police are questioning Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams over the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville, his party said on Wednesday, after police said detectives investigating the case had arrested a 65-year-old man.
Mr Adams, 65, said in a statement that he was "innocent of any part" in the death of Mrs McConville, who was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972, one of the most controversial crimes of Northern Ireland's sectarian violence.
Gerry Adams questioned over 1972 murder
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Gerry Adams questioned over 1972 murder
Former head of the IRA political wing denies involvement in the killing of Jean McConville, among the ten most controversial murders of the 'Troubles.'
"I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family," said Mr Adams, who has always denied membership of the Irish Republican Army, which admitted carrying out the murder.
"Well publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these," he said. "While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs McConville."
Mrs McConville, a 37-year-old mother of 10, was snatched from her west Belfast flat and shot by republican paramilitaries, accused of passing information to the British army. In 1999, the IRA admitted her murder and her remains were found on a beach in County Louth four years later.
Mr Adams has always denied any involvement.
"Last month Gerry Adams said he was available to meet the PSNI [Police Service of Northern Ireland] about the Jean McConville case," according to a Sinn Fein statement on the party's website. "That meeting is taking place the evening."
Police confirmed a 65-year-old man presented himself to Antrim police station and was arrested, but did not release his name.
As the head of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, Mr Adams was for many the face of Irish militant nationalism during the IRA's bombing campaigns of the 1980s. British media were banned for years from broadcasting his voice.
Three decades of violence, known as the Troubles, between Catholic militants seeking union with Ireland and mainly Protestant militants, who wanted to maintain Northern Ireland's position as a part of Britain, largely ended after a 1998 peace deal.
But investigations into historic crimes by pro-British militants were blamed by some observers for sparking some of the worst street violence for years in Northern Ireland in 2013.
It is unclear what affect the arrest might have on Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, whose deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, is also a member of Sinn Fein.
Mr Adams, who is the leader of Ireland's second largest opposition party, suggested his arrest could be politically motivated.
"I do have concerns in the middle of an election about the timing," he told Irish television station RTE before he volunteered himself for questioning.
Sinn Fein is campaigning for European elections on May 23.
Nobody has ever been found guilty of Mrs McConville's murder, but former IRA leader Ivor Bell, 77, was last month charged with aiding and abetting the murder. His lawyer has said he would contest the charges.
The charges were based on an interview Mr Bell reportedly gave to researchers at a US university. The Boston College recordings were meant to be made public only after the deaths of the interviewees, but some content was handed over following a US court bid.
Mrs McConville was seized by the IRA from her flat, shot dead and secretly buried. She became one of the so-called "disappeared", with her whereabouts unknown until her remains were found on Shelling Hill beach. The IRA had alleged she was an informer, though no evidence has been found to support this claim.
Mr Adams said he was never an official member of the Provisional IRA. He has been president of Sinn Fein, the IRA's former political wing, since 1983.
Reuters, AFP, Telegraph, London