By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The mystery over who was responsible for theft of top-secret documents from the Castlereagh security base on March 17 deepened this week when six people, including four republicans, were arrested by police investigating the break-in.
The six were detained for questioning in dramatic dawn raids. Five, including all the republicans arrested, were released without charge after less than 48 hours, leaving just one person being questioned by detectives, although homes in republican areas continued to be raided by police.
One of the six was noted Belfast republican Bobby Storey, a long-serving republican ex-prisoner, and another was a republican woman. Storey was released on Sunday after his arrest Saturday.
The arrests and house raids sparked Sinn Fein anger, with the party leader, Gerry Adams, warning the British government that republicans will not take the blame for the break-in at Castlereagh.
The detention of republicans was a major surprise as most observers had believed the Castlereagh break-in was the result of in-fighting between different sections of police and military intelligence.
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On Sunday, several British newspapers with reputations for reporting leaks from police and military intelligence sources carried anonymous claims that the IRA was behind the raid on Castlereagh, but republicans are denying the allegations.
“Sinn Fein is prepared to put its political credibility on the line by rejecting any allegation that republicans were behind the Castlereagh break-in,” a senior republican source said.
As police carried out further house searches, Adams told an Easter commemoration in North Belfast on Monday that elements within the British security establishment were up to “dirty tricks.”
“Let’s make it clear to [British Northern secretary] John Reid and anyone else who’s listening: republicans will not be scapegoated and will not accept responsibility for the working out of the British agenda.”
Adams claimed the arrests merely proved that policing in the North has not yet been sufficiently reformed. “Does anyone here think that any of the youngsters here have any desire to make a career out of policing?” he asked.
Sinn FTin has called on the Irish government to intervene following the arrests of republican. One of those detained was a civilian employee at Castlereagh who was in the U.S. at the time of the raid.
A total of four men and two women were detained. Following the Castlereagh raid, there were widespread suspicions that it had been an “inside job,” involving either police or members of British military intelligence.
The then chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, had also said he would have been surprised if republican or loyalist paramilitaries were involved.
During the raids that led to the arrests on Saturday, armed police officers backed up by British Army units raided homes and premises in west, north and east Belfast, and in the Bogside area of Derry.
The homes of the six people arrested were subjected to detailed searches. RUC/PSNI sources claimed they were following “a definite line of inquiry” into the raid and that they were concentrating on a theory that republicans were involved.
The arrests were condemned by Sinn FTin’s Alex Maskey, who said they were highly provocative, coming on the eve of Easter commemorations. He said the raids were a clumsy attempt to deflect attention away from the activities of the PSNI Special Branch.
During the break-in on March 17, a Special Branch officer was assaulted and documents taken from what is known as the source handling unit, which is used as a “link-point” for security force informers and their police handlers.
Maskey said the arrests would “seem to suggest that there is panic going on within the security services about this break-in.”