**This story happened 16 years ago:

Attacker Kills 3, Wounds 50 At IRA Funeral in Belfast
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 17, 1988; Page A01

BELFAST, MARCH 16 -- Troubled Northern Ireland descended to a new
level of terror today as a man threw hand grenades and fired shots
into a crowd of thousands of mourners packed inside a cemetery here
for an Irish Republican Army funeral, killing three people and
wounding more than 50, several critically.

The attack occurred as the second of three coffins, containing the
bodies of an IRA bombing unit shot dead by British forces 10 days
ago in Gibraltar, was being lowered into a joint grave in a reserved
IRA plot at the vast Milltown Cemetery in Catholic west Belfast.

Mourners, small children, journalists and hardened republican
militants alike fell to the ground in panic as the assailant,
standing at the edge of the crowd, lobbed at least four grenades
toward the gravesite. When hundreds of youths in the gathering
jumped up in pursuit, he began to run through the maze of tightly
packed gravestones, tossing more grenades over his shoulder and
firing a handgun as the crowd closed in on him.

He was eventually captured by the youths, who began beating him but
turned him over to police who arrived at the scene about 15 minutes
after the attack began.

The man, identified by police as Michael Stone, was said to be
in "comfortable" condition at a military hospital. Sources said
Stone was a known Protestant extremist with a lengthy criminal,
although nonterrorist, record.

Police said a second man, whom they did not identify, had also been
arrested in connection with the attack, although not at the

The two leading Protestant paramilitary groups denied any
involvement. But a possible connection was indicated by the weapons
used in the attack, believed to have been fragmentation grenades and
a Browning automatic pistol identical to those in large Protestant
arms caches seized by police in January.

Today's attack, which British Northern Ireland Secretary Tom King
condemned as "insane and depraved," comes at a time of high tension
in Anglo-Irish relations. The assault was the latest in an
escalating pattern of Ulster-related violence over the past several
months that some fear will become outright warfare between sectarian
paramilitary groups.

This afternoon, Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, accused the
police of "collusion" in the attack, a charge the Royal Ulster
Constabulary called an "outright lie."

But the somewhat sketchy version of the incident offered by police
differed in some respects from that of a number of witnesses.

Whatever the truth, today's events, unprecedented even for violence-
torn Northern Ireland, are sure to be seen as a major propaganda
coup by the IRA, whose supporters had behaved with notably peaceful
discretion during the funeral only to end up as victims of a
terrorist attack.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he did not believe in reprisals
and appealed for calm, noting that Irish republicans were still in
mourning for the Gibraltar dead. Another IRA funeral, for a gunmen
shot by troops early yesterday, already had been scheduled for
Thursday, when large St. Patrick's Day crowds are expected.

But repercussions from today's attack already were being felt
tonight, as buses, trucks and cars were set on fire in several
Belfast Catholic neighborhoods by rampaging youths tossing molotov
cocktails at passing vehicles.

Sympathy for the IRA among republicans on both sides of the Northern
Irish border had seriously eroded last November, after an IRA bomb
killed 11 people at a Remembrance Day ceremony for war dead in the
small town of Enniskillen. Police later discovered a number of major
IRA weapons caches and shipments, allegedly supplied by Libya.

But the Anglo-Irish difficulties over law enforcement that began
early this year had started to revive IRA status. Sympathy for the
IRA, and criticism of the British, increased 10 days ago when the
three IRA operatives were shot dead in Gibraltar.

The IRA acknowledged their "active duty status" and said that the
three -- Mairead Farrell, 31, Dan McCann, 30, and Sean Savage, 23 --
were in charge of 140 pounds of plastic explosives to be used
against an undisclosed target.

British officials said the target had been a coming military
ceremony in the central square of the British colony. The fact that
the three were unarmed when they were shot, however, and that no
bomb was found in Gibraltar -- although one was discovered three
days later in Marbella -- led to allegations that the three had
been "assassinated" by a British military hit squad that could
easily have taken them alive.

The bodies arrived here from Gibraltar, via Dublin, early yesterday

Paramilitary funerals are traditionally a time for conflict here,
with the IRA, and increasingly the Protestant groups, using the
occasions for defiant displays of military might. To prevent such
occurrences, the constabulary since 1983 has sent hundreds of riot-
equipped troops into most republican funerals.

Last March, three police officers were injured by an IRA car bomb
placed at the gates of a cemetery where a policeman, himself killed
in an IRA attack, was being buried.

The families of the Gibraltar dead had rejected a police request to
pledge there would be no military display -- traditionally a volley
fired by uniformed and masked IRA gunmen at the gravesite. But the
Catholic Church then offered its own pledge, asking police to stay
away. The police gave no official response.

The only police presence in the vicinity was an observation
helicopter. Sinn Fein officials said early in the day that no
military display was planned, and there was no evidence of one

At a morning church service, the Rev. Tom Toner struck a relatively
moderate tone, saying that the Gibraltar "killings were murder --
just as the killing of soldiers and policemen is murder."

The funeral procession of up to 10,000 people then walked to
Milltown Cemetery. Grieving relatives gathered inside the fenced IRA
plot, where 18 graves hold three or four bodies each.

Farrell's coffin had been placed in the grave, and Savage's was
being lowered as the first grenade exploded about 20 yards away. The
coffin was dropped, slamming atop the one below.

Scores of wreathes were trampled into the mud as mourners scrambled
to flatten themselves on the wet ground and cowered behind
tombstones. Three more explosions quickly followed, along with the
screams of the wounded.

Hysterical mothers lay atop shrieking children, trying to shield
them. Farrell's elderly father appeared in a state of shock, and
McCann's stunned widow was quickly hustled away.

Many of the blood-drenched victims were thrown into cars from the
funeral procession and rushed to a hospital.

When the youths beyond the immediate gravesite chased the assailant,
many in the crowd began to chant "I-R-A, I-R-A." Some, watching the
still-shooting assailant running toward a superhighway at the edge
of the cemetery, shouted obscenities at him.

Above the din, Sinn Fein's Adams shouted in vain, "Please, please be
quiet. Stay calm and stay where you are." McCann's coffin was
hurriedly placed in the ground and the grave was filled.

At a news conference an hour after the attack, Adams said that a
mysterious white van, also seen by a number of journalists, had been
parked on the shoulder of the highway -- against police regulations -
- during the incident. One man, Adams said, had jumped into the van
when the crowd started pursuing the gunman, who was trying to reach
it when it sped away.

A police spokesman later said the van was a police "motorway
maintenance vehicle," whose occupants had simply stopped
to "rubberneck" events at the cemetery. The spokesman denied that
anyone had gotten in the vehicle at the scene, and said there had
been no second man involved at the cemetery itself.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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