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British Police Seize 10 Tons Of IRA Explosives in Raids

By Fred Barbash
The Washington Post

Police seized about 10 tons of explosives in dawn raids on suspected Irish Republican Army hideouts Monday, during which they arrested five men and fatally shot another in West London.

Authorities said they believe the seizures prevented "imminent" attacks of a "significant" scale, noting that the quantity of explosives taken Monday was six times larger than that which the IRA used to devastate Manchester's central shopping area in June.

It was the third major police haul of what were believed to be IRA bombs and bomb-making materials since the terrorist organization, based in Northern Ireland, ended an 18-month cease-fire in February by exploding a powerful bomb in London's Docklands office and apartment complex.

The West London raid was the first of the series to involve gunfire. Police, acting under Britain's strict rules of pretrial secrecy, did not disclose details of the shooting, which took place outside a guest house in the Hammersmith section of London - just west of the central city - or the name of the dead man.

Despite the string of raids, law enforcement sources said they could not be confident that they have disabled seriously the destructive capacity of the well-organized paramilitary group, which operates in independent cells across the British mainland and in Northern Ireland.

"I have no doubt that today's operation has frustrated an attempt" by the IRA to "carry out significant and imminent attacks on the mainland with the possibility, indeed the probability, of grave loss of life, serious damage and disruption to mainland cities," Sir Paul Condon, chief of the Metropolitan Police, told a news conference.

Most of the seized materials - including fertilizer explosives and the chemical explosive Semtex - were taken during a raid on a warehouse storage facility in North London. Police also recovered three Kalashnikov rifles, two handguns, and trucks and other vehicles that they said likely would have been used to deliver the bombs.

Police provided no details about possible targets.

During the past two decades, the IRA has set off hundreds of bombs, wreaking billions of dollars in property damage as part of its campaign to force Britain to relinquish control of Northern Ireland.

The illegal organization declared a cessation of hostilities on August 31, 1995 and was soon joined by terrorist organizations from Northern Ireland's Protestant "loyalist" community, which favors continued British rule in the province.

The IRA abruptly reversed course in February, declaring its impatience with the British response to the cease-fire. As a result, Sinn Fein has been excluded from multi-party talks which have resumed in Belfast under the chairmanship of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Those discussions - involving both Catholic and Protestant parties - are designed to lead to a permanent settlement of the sectarian strife that has claimed more than 3,000 lives in the past 25 years. They have yet to achieve substantive progress, however.

Since February, the IRA has set off two significant explosions in England (in Manchester and at the Docklands in London), detonated several smaller devices and had several others foiled by mistakes of execution. This summer, an IRA unit was blamed for blowing up a hotel in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.

But the organization has largely avoided bombings in the province, for fear, observers believe, of alienating some of its own supporters and prompting the Protestant terrorist organizations to reinstate their own bombing campaigns, which they have resisted so far.

Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, did not dispute police claims that they had thwarted a major IRA bombing campaign, and he expressed regret for the death of the man shot by police.

One of those arrested in the raids was an employee of British Airways, the airline confirmed late Monday, stressing that it had no reason to believe the man's activities were directed at the country's premier national and international air carrier.