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Youths On Overnight Rampage To Avenge Deadly Attack On IRA Funeral

March 18, 1988

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Young Roman Catholics bent on revenge for a bloody attack on an IRA funeral threw gasoline bombs at the homes of Protestants, hijacked cars and attacked police into the early hours today.

Police fired plastic bullets to disperse the rioters. The violence died out before dawn, but some Belfast roads remained blocked today by burned out vehicles.

Later today, several hundred mourners gathered at a Requiem Mass for Thomas McErlean, 20. He was killed Wednesday at Milltown cemetery when youths chased the Protestant attacker, who fled still firing and throwing hand grenades. The crowd cornered and beat the man, now in police custody.

Meanwhile, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported that a banned Protestant guerrilla group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, claimed reponsibility for killing another Catholic, Charles McGrillen, 25. McGrillen, also buried today, was gunned down at a supermarket on Tuesday.

A press officer at Belfast police headquarters said local people in West Belfast chased away Catholic youths after they threw gasoline bombs at the homes of elderly Protestants.

Ignoring pleas to stay calm, other young men set fire to vehicles and threw gasoline bombs at security forces in sporadic incidents. The violence affected Catholic areas of west and north Belfast, parts of Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second largest city, and Newry, a mainly Catholic town in the south of the province.

Nine policemen and one civilian were slightly hurt Thursday from rock and bottle-throwing at a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Rasharkin, about 35 miles north of Belfast, and six people were arrested. In Belfast, police said three people were arrested for possessing gasoline bombs.

Tension remained high following Wednesday’s attack by a Protestant gunman on the funeral of three IRA guerrillas. The attack left three dead and 68 injured.

The three guerrillas were shot and killed by British security forces in Gibraltar March 6 as they allegedly prepared to plant a car bomb. They were unarmed.

A fourth IRA guerrilla, not involved in the Gibraltar case, was buried Thursday without incident.

The outlawed Irish Republican Army is fighting to end British rule in Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland and unite the province with the Irish Republic, which is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Police stayed at a distance from the funerals Wednesday and Thursday following an assurance from Catholic churchmen that the IRA would not stage armed paramilitary displays, which are illegal.

Although the two men whose funerals were today were both Catholic, neither was publicly linked to the IRA.

The recent attacks prompted fears that Northern Ireland’s sectarian turmoil, which has lasted nearly two decades and claimed about 2,500 lives, could escalate again.

At a St. Patrick’s Day rally, Gerry Adams, president of the IRA’s legal political wing, Sinn Fein, appealed to about 5,000 mainly young Catholics not to riot.

″Stay calm,″ Adams said as a British army helicopter hovered overhead and black smoke rose in the distance from a burning vehicle. ″Let’s not add to the burdens people in this area and other nationalist areas have to deal with.″

Police are holding two men in connection with the attack. Michael Stone, a Protestant, who allegedly threw grenades and fired at the mourners, remained under armed guard in a Belfast hospital. The second man has not been named.

Northern Ireland’s main Protestant paramilitary groups denied involvement in the attack.

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