updated 1/7/2005 8:21:41 AM ET 2005-01-07T13:21:41

The Irish Republican Army committed last month’s massive raid on a Belfast bank, the Northern Ireland police commander announced Friday in a move certain to complicate the province’s peacemaking efforts.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde said his detectives probing the Dec. 20 raid on Northern Bank — when a hostage-taking gang stole an estimated $42 million — were confident that members of the outlawed IRA planned and carried it out.

Police didn’t release any evidence and no arrests were made, but the comments from the top Northern Ireland police official confirmed earlier statements that the IRA was the top suspect in the biggest all-cash robbery in history.

The IRA and its allied Sinn Fein party repeatedly have rejected mounting accusations of IRA involvement in the robbery.

But Protestant leaders said the verdict from Orde — who had previously avoided any public comment on the case — would harden their opposition to forming any new power-sharing administration with Sinn Fein, the major Catholic-backed party.

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