Belfast Telegraph

Police swoop on UDA robbery gang
Eight men held in major operation.

By Jonathan McCambridge
27 November 2004

Police have broken up what they believe is a UDA crime gang on the verge of staging a major hostage incident, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

Detectives swooped on the gang, based in east Belfast, while they were allegedly about to carry out a kidnapping and armed robbery this week.

Police sources have told this paper that eight men being questioned in relation to serious crime offences include "major figures" in the paramilitary organisation.

Police made their arrests following an intelligence led operation co-ordinated by a number of branches of the PSNI's Crime Operations department, which deals with serious crime.

Police swooped on Thursday night when they arrested three men in east Belfast.

A number of house searches were carried out and five more men were arrested.

It is understood that the planned operation used significant police resources involving both plain clothes and uniformed officers and several police Land Rovers and cars.

Police sources said this indicated their determination to crack down on organised gangs and to target the major players in serious crime.

The eight men are still in custody and will be questioned again today.

It is only two weeks since the Government moved to officially recognise the UDA ceasefire after the organisation indicated it would move away from criminality to a more community-based role.

This was despite the International Monitoring Commission stating that the UDA was still involved in a range of organised crimes.

There have been a spate of kidnap robberies linked to paramilitaries in recent months. In some cases, children have been held as hostages until large ransoms are paid.

The PSNI have had a number of successes in the last six months against serious organised crime, including disrupting illegal dumping, counterfeit crime and cross-border theft of farm machinery.

East Belfast District Policing Partnership member Jim Rodgers said he welcomed this week's police operation.

"People in the community are increasingly concerned about serious crime, so any operation against it is to be welcomed," he said.

The UDA says it is doing all it can to end criminality within its ranks, and its political allies have attacked 'Doubting Thomases' in the political and media worlds.

Last week, Sammy Duddy of the Ulster Politial Research Group, which offers analysis to the UDA, said in a letter to the Belfast Telegraph: "The UDA, in conjunction with the UPRG, are determined, sincere and single-minded in their request for peace."

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