- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A commission investigating Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups has concluded that an “elite robbery team” from the Irish Republican Army was behind not only a $50 million bank job in Belfast in December but three other major robberies last year.

“We have carefully scrutinized all the material of different kinds that has become available to us since the [December] robbery, which leads us to conclude firmly that it was planned and undertaken by the IRA,” said the four-member Independent Monitoring Commission in a report to the governments of Great Britain and Ireland.

The commission, created in January 2004 to help promote the establishment of a stable and inclusive government in Northern Ireland and to report to both governments on the activities of paramilitary groups, also concluded that the IRA took part in three other major robberies near Belfast.

Those incidents, which authorities think were carried out by the IRA’s “elite robbery team,” included a raid in May at a cash-and-carry store in Dunmurry, where four staff members were held at gunpoint, tied up and gagged, while the robbers made off with more than $2 million in cigarettes, alcohol and electrical items.

The IRA also was tied to a $4 million robbery at a warehouse in Ardoyne in October and an abduction and a robbery at an Iceland store in Strabane in September.

Those robberies, like the Dec. 20 robbery of the headquarters of the Northern Bank in Belfast in December, used an IRA tactic known as “tiger kidnapping,” where the family of an employee of the targeted business is held hostage to ensure his cooperation.

Since April 2004, there have been 11 “tiger kidnappings,” at least four of which have been blamed on the IRA. The organization has a long history of supporting its military activities with bank robberies, but it has refrained in recent years as part of the peace process.

Sinn Fein, a political party linked to the IRA, has denied any knowledge of IRA involvement in the recent robberies. It also has rejected the findings of the independent commission, which concluded that some members of Sinn Fein also are members of the IRA, saying the panel is not a properly constituted body.

During an interview last week in Washington, the four commission members said they were trying to “shine a light” on violence by the IRA and other paramilitary organizations operating in Northern Ireland and, eventually, put them out of business.

“There is nothing glorious or glamorous in what they are doing,” said Commissioner David Alderdice, a former mayor of Belfast, member of the House of Lords and speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. “This is crime, plain and simple.”

Mr. Alderdice, a psychiatrist, was one of the negotiators of the so-called Good Friday agreement, an April 1998 initiative intended to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

“Sinn Fein has said it is opposed to criminality of any kind, [but] it appears at times to have its own definition of what constitutes a crime,” said Commissioner John Grieve, a former London Metropolitan Police official.

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