Irish Republican News · December 22, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

Republicans believe disaffected members of the British security forces may have worked with unionist paramilitaries to carry out the largest bank robbery in Irish history.

Speculation has swirled regarding Monday’s raid of over #20m (30m Euros) from the vaults of the Northern Bank in Belfast, in which the families of two bank officials were held hostage.

Despite the refusal by the PSNI police to release details of the incident, the evidence increasingly points to a loyalist connection.

Up to 20 gang members were involved in the scheme which was clearly several months in the planning.

The robbers had access to precise information on the bank’s security measures and the huge loot stored within.

But it has also emerged that the gang confidently operated with local knowledge of the County Down countryside in an area traditionally associated with unionist paramilitaries.

The carefully coordinated raid began at 10pm on Sunday when armed members of the gang took over the executives’ homes in Dunmurry, on the outskirts of south Belfast, and Loughinisland, County Down, simultaneously.

Access was facilitated by the fact that some gang members were dressed as PSNI officers.

Family members were then driven to remote rural areas of County Down in freezing conditions and were forced to make their way through woods in the dark to safety.

The men were ordered to work as normal on Monday at their offices beside Belfast city hall. At closing time both executives arranged for the vaults to be emptied into one or two dustbin trucks in a process that took several hours.

The ambitious raid has been compared with a similarly daring operation last year, when masked members of the British security forces were accused of removing incriminating documents from the heart of the Castlereagh military base in east Belfast.

Despite the lack of any evidence, the mainstream media has been quick to blame republicans and has used the commentary of notorious British ‘securocrat’ Bill Lowry to bolster the argument.

The PSNI police have divulged few details of Monday’s raid, but suggested a paramilitary group may have been involved, or equally, a criminal gang with no paramilitary connections.

“This was not a lucky crime,” said one PSNI chief.

However, the raiders will experience considerable difficulty in capitalising on their success. The haul largely consists of cash in the North’s peculiar local currency -- although legal tender, the money is not accepted in Britain and can even be difficult to spend in parts of the North.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News