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Police Target IRA Over Bank Heist

Associated Press
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page A25

BELFAST, Dec. 24 -- Police staged raids Friday in two Irish Republican Army strongholds in Belfast in search of the $42.5 million stolen this week from a bank's underground vault.

Among the properties searched was the home of Eddie Copeland, a prominent reputed IRA commander in Ardoyne, a hard-line Catholic enclave in north Belfast. Police confiscated four cell phones and Copeland's shoes -- and even opened presents under his family's Christmas tree.

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Disarming Northern Ireland

Scores of officers, many in white forensic overalls, also searched properties in Catholic west Belfast, the primary power base of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party. But they did not report any progress in their hunt for the gang responsible for Monday's raid on the Northern Bank headquarters -- the world's biggest cash robbery during peacetime.

The geography of the raids suggested that the IRA -- the most sophisticated of Northern Ireland's myriad illegal groups -- tops the authorities' list of suspects.

The IRA, which has been observing a cease-fire since 1997 but remains active on several fronts, including criminal rackets, denied Thursday that it was involved.

Sinn Fein's leader, Gerry Adams, complained to Paul Murphy, Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, about the searches in the Catholic neighborhood.

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