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Kidnapping bank heist nets 7 million euros

POLICE recovered millions in stolen cash and were interrogating seven suspected robbers yesterday, a day after a gang took a bank employee's family hostage and forced him to rob his own branch.

Police said that shortly before midnight they raided two houses in Dublin, where they recovered at least a third of the stolen money.

Six men and a woman were arrested and were being interrogated separately at Dublin police stations, where they can be held for up to 72 hours before being charged or released.

On Friday six armed, masked men stormed into the rural home of Bank of Ireland worker Shane Travers. They tied up his partner, her five-year-old son and her mother and told Travers they'd be killed unless he cooperated.

Such hostage-taking tactics are common in Ireland's criminal underworld - but never in the Republic of Ireland have they netted anything close to the 7 million euros (US$8.9 million) that Travers carried out from his branch Friday morning.

His family were abandoned inside a van north of Dublin, but escaped on their own and were not seriously harmed.

Initially Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and police chiefs offered veiled criticism of Travers' apparent failure to notify police until after he had handed over the mountain of cash. That violated police and bank instructions on how to handle a bank heist involving hostage-taking.

So-called "tiger kidnappings" - when gangs seize families of bank officials and force them to breach their employers' security - are common crimes in Ireland, a close-knit society where criminals can closely track their targets. But they typically involve thefts below 1 million euros.

Friday's raid on the Bank of Ireland branch in College Green, the tourist heart of Dublin, was by far the biggest robbery in the Republic of Ireland. But it pales in comparison with a similar 2004 raid in Northern Ireland, when two Northern Bank employees were forced to help a gang take more than US$37.2 million from the bank's central Belfast vault.


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