11 March 2006

Dawn raid as net closes on notorious IRA farm

Times

By David Sharrock, Ireland Correspondent
10 March 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTHE net finally closed yesterday around the farm renowned as the centre of activities of one of the Provisional IRA’s most feared commanders.

Hundreds of officers supported by helicopters made a dawn raid on the farm owned by Thomas “Slab” Murphy in one of the largest security operations in the notorious South Armagh and northern Co Louth region.

Police refused to name the two men and a woman who were arrested. With the help of soldiers and customs officers from both sides of the Irish border they seized guns, money, vehicles and cigarettes. Eight other properties were also searched.

The farm complex of the alleged chief of staff of the Provisionals has been at the heart of IRA activity since the Troubles erupted at the start of the 1970s. It was considered sufficiently threatening to British security for the erection in 1986 of two army watchtowers — known as Golf Two Zero and Golf Three Zero — to maintain 24-hour surveillance. The towers are expected to be dismantled by the end of May as part of the Army ’s normalisation programme.

Scores of soldiers and police have died in the area, which became so dangerous that movement was restricted to helicopters. Local people were amazed to see police vehicles on the roads yesterday; for 25 years they have been absent.

Thirty thousand smuggled cigarettes and 8,000 litres of fuel were seized in the operation, according to Irish police, as well as £140,000 in minor currency. Two shotguns, computers and financial records were also taken away. Three fuel trucks and a large tractor trailer that had a fuel container hidden inside were also seized.

Police said that they arrested three people, a man and woman in their early 50s and a second man aged in his 60s. The two men had sped in a car through a police checkpoint at Hackballs Cross, Co Louth, on the southern side of the border. All three were released without charge last night.

Police in Northern Ireland said the operation had been aimed at a sophisticated criminal enterprise. A detective in the Republic, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the raids were conducted in the hope of identifying links to a portfolio of properties in Manchester that was frozen last September on suspicion that it had been bought with IRA cash.

One of Mr Murphy’s brothers has acknowledged that he owns some of those properties but denies any link to the IRA.

A Garda spokesman said later that the searches had “found no direct linkage” with the properties. He added that the police “were not searching for individuals. We were searching for evidence”. The Social Democratic and Labour Party, which represents moderate nationalist opinion in Northern Ireland, welcomed the raids as a sign of co-operation between police forces.

“The threat of organised crime recognises no borders,” Alex Attwood, its policing spokesman, said. “Any crime boss or foot soldier must know there is no hiding place for them.” Sinn Fein, the Provisional IRA’s political wing, declined to comment.

Mr Murphy has never been convicted of any crime, but anti-terrorist police and several published histories of the IRA identify him as the outlawed group’s long-time chief of staff. Since the early 1980s he also has legally operated, then shut down, a series of fuel distribution businesses that customs and police officials have long suspected of tax evasion through cross-border smuggling.

Mr Murphy has twice sued The Sunday Times, which described him as a millionaire smuggler and a pivotal figure in plotting bomb attacks. Both times he lost. In 1998 a Dublin jury found that he was an IRA commander and a smuggler.

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