A judge in Northern Ireland has granted police an additional 48 hours to interrogate Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams about the 1972 killing of a Belfast widow and mother of 10.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland confirmed its detectives had received the required extension in a closed door court hearing Friday. Under British law, police could seek a second extension Sunday night.
Adams -- a leading opposition figure in Northern Ireland -- was arrested Wednesday for questioning in the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a 38-year-old executed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army as an accused spy for British authorities. Her body was secretly buried and found decades later in the Republic of Ireland.
Adams has always denied any direct involvement in the IRA, despite claims by witnesses that he served as an IRA commander for decades during the 30-year insurgency that pitted independence-seeking Republicans against pro-British Unionists. He has also denied any role in the killing of McConville.
The detention of Adams has sparked a firestorm of criticism from Sinn Fein, which is characterizing the arrest as a potential threat to the stability of the unity government that has ruled Northern Ireland since 2007.
Sinn Fein is the second largest political party in Northern Ireland and was considered the political wing of the IRA.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness -- the Sinn Fein official who governs Northern Ireland alongside British Protestant politicians -- said his party will reconsider the 2007 vote establishing Northern Ireland's police, if Adams is charged. McGuinness, also a reputed IRA commander, said Sinn Fein will continue to support police reforms if Adams is freed.
For his part, Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford told journalists police who detained Adams were simply doing their jobs, and following up on one of the most widely publicized and heinous crimes of the entire sectarian conflict.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.