Intelligence sting catches alleged Real IRA's number two in arms deal

26 Jun 2006
The Herald

The alleged second-in-command of the breakaway terrorist group the Real IRA has been remanded in custody after a joint MI5, French intelligence service and Irish police operation to foil the smuggling of a consignment of weapons and explosives. Paul McCaugherty, 39, from Lurgan, Armagh, is also accused of conspiracy to possess firearms, conspiracy to murder members of the security forces in Northern Ireland and supplying cash to buy arms and ammunition. Mr McCaugherty is the fourth alleged member of the group to be charged in the last week in a major security crackdown in the border counties of Armagh and Fermanagh.

MI5 agents posed for months as French arms' dealers to discover details of the Real IRA's shopping list, which included AK47 assault weapons, Barrat Light .50 long-range sniper rifles, Sam-7 anti- aircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine-guns, and 200lbs of Semtex plastic explosives.

If the deal had gone ahead, the terrorists would have been able to shoot down helicopters, destroy armoured vehicles and pick off victims at more than 1000 yards. The purchase was being funded by a cash sum of GBP28,000 in euros and the deeds to a villa in Portugal.

Mr McCaugherty is accused of receiving the assets and of arranging for them to be made available to a third party "for the purposes of terrorism". Payment for the weapons was handed over to the undercover agents and will now be confiscated.

If convicted, the four accused will be the second Real IRA group caught in an intelligence sting operation in less than four years. Three members were arrested in Slovakia in 2002 as they attempted to buy weapons from undercover British intelligence agents and are now serving jail sentences for conspiracy.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland source said: "We believe the arms were to be used to destabilise Sinn Fein's political leadership in its dealings with the UK by attacking security forces both here and possibly on the UK mainland.

"On the plus side, the dissidents have been foiled once more by solid intelligence gathering. The fact that they are seeking arms abroad also shows that they have little or no access to any of the Provisional IRA's old arms' caches."

The Real IRA contains some of the most dangerous and experienced terrorists in Ireland, many of them former Provisionals from the hardcore active service units in South Armagh. It was responsible for the worst single atrocity in the 30 years of the Troubles when it killed 29 people in the 1998 Omagh bombing.

The trial of the suspected master bomber involved in the incident starts on September 6. Sean Hoey, 36, of Jonesborough, on the South Armagh border, faces a total of 58 charges.  

(Blogger note: Hoey was later acquitted based on low copy DNA evidence being temporarily disallowed. His defense lawyer was Peter Corrigan of Kevin Winters & Co. Please see Daily Mail for information about the McCann's and Kevin Winters & Co.  McCann's spokesman later stated that while Winters & Co.  had been "contacted", they would not be "meeting" with them. )

MI5 was recently ordered to devote 20per cent of its overstretched resources to tackling the potential threat from IRA splinter groups in Northern Ireland.

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