QUESTIONS MOUNT OVER BANK RAID
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
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
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.