Trio in Belfast court accused of international weapons plot

23 June 2006
Agence France Presse

Three people close to a dissident republican paramilitary group in Northern Ireland were accused in court Friday of participating in an international weapons plot. Belfast Magistrates Court heard that the alleged conspiracy involved machine guns, explosives and anti-tank weapons, and stretched as far as Portugal and France. The three -- all remanded in custody -- were believed to be close to the Real IRA, a dissident group opposed to the peace process between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. They were among 10 people arrested Monday in a major police operation involving 200 officers.

Desmond Kearns, 41, and his wife Patricia, 37, from Lurgan in central Northern Ireland, were charged with procuring weapons. Desmond Kearns was charged with conspiring to possess weapons including AK-47 assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, silencers, heavy machine guns and various types of ammunition with intent to endanger life or enable others to do so. He was also accused of conspiring with others to have in his possession anti-tank armour-piercing weapons, plastic explosive, detonators, mines, rocket-propelled grenades and detonating cord. Pauline Kearns faced a charge of inviting another person to provide weapons for terrorist purposes.

Michael Gregory, 37, from Crossmaglen near the Irish border, was meanwhile charged with making an arrangement as a result of which the assets of commercial property in Portugal were made available to another person who knew or suspected they would be used for terrorism.

Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter, who worked closely with Irish, French and Portuguese counterparts, said he believed that the operation had disrupted a potential major terrorist conspiracy.

The Real IRA carried out the the worst single attack in 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland, killing 29 people in a car bombing in Omagh in 1998. The larger Irish Republican Army, the main Catholic paramilitary group, renounced violence and dismantled its arsenal in 2005, enabling its political wing Sinn Fein to play a bigger role in the peace process.

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