Bank employees in North on alert after bomb attacks by dissidents

BANK employees in Northern Ireland are being put on alert after several bomb attacks in recent months by dissident Irish nationalists.

A branch of Banco Santander in Derry was bombed on May 21, causing “extensive damage,” according to police. The self-styled Real Irish Republican Army, which killed a policeman in April, said it carried out the attack. Last October, the same group exploded a car bomb in Derry outside a branch of Ulster Bank Ltd, part of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.

“We are urging our staff to remain vigilant and are helping police with their inquiries,” Andy Smith, a spokesman for Santander, said by phone yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Ulster Bank declined to comment on “specific security matters.”

Banks have been blamed for their role in the global financial crisis, with three people left dead during an attack on a branch during demonstrations in Athens. The Real IRA is seeking to build on discontent after the Republic of Ireland sought an €85 billion rescue last year.

Previously, the Real IRA said it is targeting banks, as it seeks to reignite the conflict in Northern Ireland that claimed 3,500 lives before largely ending in 1998. In 2009, the group, which splintered from the Provisional IRA after members laid down their arms, killed two British soldiers in a gun attack, the first military fatalities in the region since 1997.

“They are marginalised,” Emmet O’Connor, a politics lecturer at the University of Ulster, said in an interview.

“Some of them would very much be in favour of attacking international capitalism. The International Monetary Fund bailout in the south of Ireland would fit into their critique.”

Unemployment in Northern Ireland has more than doubled over the past three years as a housing crash was amplified by the global credit crisis. The power-sharing assembly in Belfast was revived in 2007, just as the economy in the Republic of Ireland was on the cusp of collapse.

“The IRA view the bankers as being in collaboration with the British government,” Paul Stewart, spokesman for the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, a group classed by the US government as a terrorist organisation with links to the Real IRA, said in a phone interview. “Brits out isn’t enough, capitalism has to be defeated.”

The British Bankers Association condemned the bombs and said in an emailed statement it “would urge anybody with any information about recent attacks to contact the authorities”.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry MacLochlainn, served a jail sentence in England for his IRA activities. Last month he watched as the bomb exploded at the Santander branch.

“I was around 100 yards from the explosion,” MacLochlainn said in a telephone interview. “If they think that by attacking a small local branch of a bank that they are striking a blow against international finance, they are sadly delusional.”

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