LONDON — Gerry Adams, the leader of the Northern Irish political party Sinn Fein, was released from police custody without charge Sunday after four days of questioning into a gruesome 1972 Irish Republican Army killing of a widow with 10 children. But the police will hand over a file of potential evidence against him to British prosecutors, police officials said.
Adams, 65, turned himself in for questioning Wednesday and was arrested; his detention was extended for 48 hours by a judge after a police application. He was released shortly before 6 p.m. from the police station in Antrim.
Police are working on allegations made in the testimonies of Irish Republican Army dissidents, now dead, that were handed over under subpoena by Boston College, which had collected them as part of an oral history project.
Adams has been accused over the years of membership in the IRA and of being the group’s commander in Belfast. He was accused in the Boston College testimonies of having ordered the abduction, murder, and secret burial of Jean McConville, who was suspected of being an informer for the British Army.
McConville’s body was found in 2003, and the police considered hers a “cold case” until the testimonies emerged.
Adams denies all the accusations. And though he has long been the leader of Sinn Fein, once the IRA’s political wing and now a prominent political party, he has never admitted to membership in the IRA, unlike his deputy, Martin McGuinness.
‘‘I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill, or bury Mrs. McConville. I have worked hard with others to have this injustice redressed,’’ Adams said as he left the police interrogation center Sunday.
‘‘For all I know I can still face charges,’’ said Adams. He said he had been interviewed 33 times during 92 hours in custody. ‘‘One presumes they would have made a charge against me. But they offered no evidence against me whatsoever.’’
He also said he is committed to a peaceful future for Ireland, north and south. “There is no going back,” he said. “The IRA is gone. It’s finished.”
Adams’s departure from the interrogation center in Antrim, west of Belfast, was delayed two hours by Protestant demonstrators outside the front gate, the Associated Press reported. The protesters waved Union Jack flags and held placards demanding justice for IRA victims. They roared angrily as police armored vehicles came into view.
Police officers, many in riot gear and flame-retardant suits, confronted the Protestants, many of whom covered their faces, as they tried to block Adams’s exit by sitting on the road. After a 15-minute standoff, police escorted Adams out via a rear exit.
Video: Sinn Fein leader a free man
Prosecutors could choose to prosecute Adams later, even just on charges of being an IRA member. But that charge alone after so many years would be widely seen by Sinn Fein and its allies as political interference.
Adams, a former member of the British Parliament from West Belfast and a current member of the Irish Parliament, the Dail, from County Louth, has led Sinn Fein since 1983. The party is running well in the Irish Republic ahead of elections later this month for local councils and for the European Parliament.
The police and officials from Britain, Northern Ireland, and Ireland have all rejected accusations from Sinn Fein and McGuinness that the arrest of Adams was political in nature and stemmed from a “dark side” of the current Police Service of Northern Ireland.
‘I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill, or bury Mrs. McConville.’
But, not surprisingly, the arrest has produced tension within the power-sharing government of Northern Ireland. The first minister, Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party, speaking of “republican bullyboy tactics,” accused Sinn Fein of trying to blackmail the police.
He called McGuinness’s threat to reassess Sinn Fein’s support for the police if Adams were charged “a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail” the police.
The Democratic Unionists agreed to share power with Sinn Fein so long as the latter accepted the authority of the reformed Ulster police.