CIRA boss 'set up weapons sting'

2 July 2006
The Sunday Life
Ciaran McGuigan

The man believed to be the leader of the Continuity IRA has been fingered as an agent who set up dissident republicans in an MI5 weapons sting. The man, a Fermanagh-based farmer, is believed to have been one of those arrested last month by cops following up a sting operation involving British intelligence and French agents.

As many as 10 people were lifted in raids last month, after it was claimed that dissidents tried to purchase heavy weaponry, including SAM 7 missiles, machine guns and long-range sniper rifles from undercover agents. The CIRA leader was eventually released without charge. And now rival republicans are pointing accusing fingers at the CIRA for the sting.

Said one republican source: "The Continuity set up the contacts to buy weapons and the Real IRA put up the money. "They were all arrested, but all of the Continuity walked free. "That's causing a lot of people to ask questions of the CIRA leaders in Fermanagh. "This is not the first time that this man has walked away from something that you should not be able to get away with, and yet it had been him who got the ball rolling in the first place." The man has been accused of terror offences in the past, but has escaped conviction. The source added: "The people within that organisation suspect the same, but there is no will to challenge him over it."

Four people have already appeared in court charged in relation to the alleged weapons deal. Among them was the man alleged in court to be the Real IRA's second-in-command, Paul McCaugherty (39) of Beech Court, Lurgan. He has been charged with conspiring to murder members of the security force during the last year and conspiracy to possess guns and explosives.

Also caught up in the MI5 sting were Dermot Gregory (37) from Concession Road in Crossmaglen and Lurgan couple Alison (37) and Desmond Kearns (42). It's alleged that money was handed over to undercover agents in the bogus arms deal supposedly to pay for a cache of heavy weapons.

The four were remanded in custody at hearings last weekend, however, Alison Kearns was later freed after applying to the High Court for bail. But, when Sunday Life called at the family's home at Tannaghmore Green last week, there was no sign of life. Neighbours in the modern cul-de-sac said that they did not believe that Kearns had returned to the house since her arrest more than 10 days ago.

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