[Pounds Sterling]27m Bank Raid; Terrorist Gangs Suspected after the Biggest Cash Robbery in History
Byline: STEPHEN WRIGHT;TED OLIVER
TERRORISTS are thought to have been behind a bank robbery in which [pounds sterling]27 million was stolen, it emerged last night.
Police suspect that the enormous cash heist in Belfast - the biggest ever in criminal history - was the work of sophisticated gangsters linked to either Republican or Loyalist paramilitaries.
Both terror networks have been blamed for backing a series of kidnap raids on banks, shops and post offices across the province this year.
Last night Ulster politicians said the peace process was being threatened by a ' mafiastyle' crime wave.
The drama began to unfold on Sunday night when the families of two executives at Northern Bank were taken hostage at gunpoint at their homes.
Nearly 24 hours later, as their relatives remained captive and in fear of their lives, the officials were forced to open the vaults at the bank's headquarters in Belfast.
It was initially thought that as much as [pounds sterling]30million had been taken but last night a source close to the bank said the figure was now thought to be [pounds sterling]27million.
Experts said the robbery bore the hallmarks of the Provisional IRA: its ability to gather intelligence on targets and get 'inside information' from employees.
The robbery happened just weeks after the latest Northern Ireland peace talks collapsed following the IRA's refusal to allow photographs to be taken of its weapons being destroyed.
But police sources stressed it was too early to pin the blame on any particular group and pointed out 'conventional' organised crime was also on the increase.
The raid was meticulously planned for Monday night when the Northern Bank's central Belfast headquarters, which houses its cash centre, was holding more ready cash than any other time of the year.
Large amounts would have come in from businesses in the city in the run-up to Christmas.
The gang raided the executives' homes at Dunmurry on the outskirts of south Belfast and Loughinisland, Co. Down, around 10pm on Sunday.
The two men were taken away and drilled throughout the night as to how they should behave the following day.
As their families remained hostages in their homes, the executives were ordered to drive to work and act normally. They were told to send the other staff - numbering only a few - home early to do some Christmas shopping.
One of the two men was supplied with a mobile phone which had a number preset in it. When he dialled it he was told to fill a bag with [pounds sterling]1million in high denomination notes executives were told to lock up and set the alarms as normal and were then taken and dumped at a remote spot while their families were freed at around 10pm.
The victims were ordered not to report the robbery until almost midnight.
No-one was injured although one of the executives is thought to have been treated for hypothermia. The hostage families are said to have been very shaken by their ordeal.
The scale of the raid stunned police chiefs heading a major offensive against organised crime in Northern Ireland, which has developed into a business worth [pounds sterling]1billion a year. …