- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2004

BELFAST — The Irish Republican Army tried to abduct a leading IRA dissident from a Belfast bar, police said yesterday, reviving arguments over whether the outlawed group will ever renounce violence and disband.

Leaders of the moderate Catholic and Protestant parties demanded clear, new peace commitments from the IRA after Chief Constable Hugh Orde revealed Friday night’s abduction attempt.

Police responding to a telephone call from the pub prevented the gang from escaping by ramming into their van at a nearby intersection. Inside the van, they found four IRA suspects and the would-be abductee, Bobby Tohill.

Police arrested the four suspects and interrogated them yesterday. Witnesses said up to three others ran away from the vehicle into Catholic West Belfast, a primary IRA power base nearby.

Mr. Tohill, 44, was hospitalized with cuts and bruises, but later discharged himself.

Mr. Orde said the four suspects are connected to the mainstream IRA, formally called the “Provisional” IRA or PIRA. The Provisionals have been observing a cease-fire since 1997, but dissident groups called the Real IRA and Continuity IRA are trying to break it.

The Provisionals have maintained their dominant position in Belfast, where the dissidents have few supporters, in part by threatening or attacking their rivals.

“This was a PIRA operation. The people arrested last night are connected with the Provisional IRA,” Mr. Orde said.

Mr. Tohill was suspected of involvement in the most recent killing committed by the Real IRA, the August slaying of a West Belfast man, Danny McGurk, 35, but was not charged.

Mr. Tohill was convicted in 1985 of murdering a British soldier, but was freed on appeal, then later served a short sentence in the neighboring Republic of Ireland for possessing illegal arms.

The IRA’s refusal to disarm fully and cease all activities has undermined the key goal of the 1998 peace accord: a joint Catholic-Protestant administration for this British territory.

Under the accord, the IRA should have disarmed completely by mid-2000. The IRA handed over an unknown amount of weaponry to disarmament officials starting in October 2001, but British and Irish intelligence estimate the outlawed group still retains the bulk of its Libyan-supplied arsenal.

A power-sharing administration that included Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party, suffered several breakdowns in 2000 and 2001 over the IRA’s refusal to disarm. The four-party coalition collapsed in October 2002 after police accused a Sinn Fein official of gathering intelligence on potential IRA targets.

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