Police charge 8 in Dublin with IRA membership

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Irish police charged eight men with Irish Republican Army membership Friday after police raided a suspected meeting of the outlaws' Dublin leadership, inflicting what a senior policeman called a major blow to the "New IRA" splinter group.

All eight men were being arraigned Friday night at Ireland's anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court, which handles IRA-related cases with three judges and no jury.

A senior police officer, speaking on condition he not be identified because he wasn't authorized to discuss the raid, told The Associated Press that officers from the Special Detective Unit have kept Dublin-based activists of the New IRA faction under surveillance for months in anticipation of catching them gathered together in a strategy meeting.

Such raids have rarely happened over the past four decades of IRA activity, either because the outlaws do a better job of concealing their meeting places or because police prefer to step back and keep gathering intelligence on the IRA figures rather than arrest them.

The senior officer said the meeting was called to reorganize the Dublin "brigade" of the New IRA after its previous commander, Alan Ryan, was fatally shot by criminal rivals last September in a turf war.

Seven men at the meeting in a house in the Tallaght suburb of southwest Dublin were charged Friday with membership in an outlawed organization.

The officer said the New IRA figures were discussing possible retaliatory attacks against the gang responsible for killing Ryan and a planned campaign of robberies designed to finance attacks in the British territory of Northern Ireland. At least two other men have been killed this year over the IRA feuding in Dublin.

An eighth man was charged Friday following a related swoop on a suspected New IRA arms dump hidden inside cargo containers in north Dublin. Police found parts for eight pipe bombs during initial searches of the containers and nearby fields Wednesday, then seized about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of plastic explosive during a follow-up search Thursday.

Most IRA members renounced violence and disarmed in 2005 following a failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom that left nearly 1,800 people dead. But several small splinter groups have persisted with sporadic gun and bomb attacks.

Last year, three IRA factions announced they had united under one command and would call themselves simply "the IRA." Irish media and police, seeking to distinguish this group from other IRA factions, have dubbed this organization the New IRA.

This week's Dublin raids represent the biggest arrest operation against the New IRA since its formation.