04 March 2006

FBI Agent Told Handlers Of Derry Or Omagh 'Strike'

Derry Journal

Friday 3rd March 2006

IT'S EMERGED that an FBI agent who infiltrated the Real IRA tipped off his handlers that paramilitaries based in Co. Donegal were planning a strike in either Derry or Omagh in the weeks leading up to the August 1998 bomb outrage in the Co. Tyrone town. The revelation comes amid claims that British intelligence agency, MI5, did not deprive police of any anti-terrorism intelligence during their investigation into the Omagh bomb atrocity.

However, Northern Ireland's police chief, Sir Hugh Orde, is still resisting pressure to confirm if the agency held back information months before the Real IRA massacred 29 people. His public refusal could heighten uncertainty over whether the August 1998 outrage could have been prevented, a Northern Ireland Policing Board representative claimed. The SDLP's Alex Attwood said: "The failure to answer that question will not reassure people. "The truth of the matter is there may have been intelligence prior to the murders that wasn't shared.

"We will never know if that might or might not have avoided that awful tragedy." The allegations that MI5 failed to inform RUC Special Branch of the threat emerged during an investigation into an FBI agent who infiltrated the Real IRA.

Based on a tip off from American trucking company boss, David Rupert, who was working undercover within the dissident paramilitary grouping, three suspected paramilitaries were arrested by police in the Irish Republic in April 1998, but released without charge. Rupert had warned that paramilitaries based in County Donegal were planning a strike on either Omagh or Derry, but most likely Omagh, security sources had disclosed. At the time police in Northern Ireland were aware that a planned paramilitary organisation had been disrupted due to the MI5s tip off, it has been claimed. But sources said no trace could be found on their records of any intelligence from the security services that Omagh or Derry had been targeted. Police only became aware after detectives involved in the Omagh bomb inquiry spoke to Rupert and studied e-mail the agent had exchanged with his handlers in the FBI and MI5. He had been the central witness in the successful conviction of the Real IRA mastermind, Michael McKevitt, who was jailed for 20 years in 2003 for directing terrorism.

As the allegations ignited fresh controversy over Omagh, Mr. Orde faced questioning on the case at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board in North Belfast this week. Challenged by Mr. Attwood to confirm whether MI5 information was passed to police before the bombing, the chief constable insisted he would not stand over the accuracy of some news reports of the allegations. But he said: "It's the view of the Senior Investigating Officer (Superintendent Norman Baxter) who I spoke to only two hours ago that the security services did not withhold intelligence that was relevant or would have progressed the Omagh inquiry."

Sir Hugh also stressed that the dissident republican suspects investigated in April 1998 were from a different cell than those involved in the Omagh bomb plot. "There's no evidence to link these two units, he said. He also confirmed that senior officers had met with the Omagh bomb victims' families last week to brief them on the state of the inquiry. A press report of that meeting drew a "starker conclusion" than what was actually discussed, Sir Hugh said. One man has been accused of murdering 29 people in the Omagh atrocity. South Armagh electrician Sean Hoey, 36, denies any involvement in the attack.

Emphasising the levels of co-operation between his force and the Garda in the Irish Republic, the chief constable added that he was not prepared to go any further in public on the issue. "I will do anything that denies the families their right to a proper prosecution or those accused the right to a fair trial." Mr. Attwood insisted what Sir Hugh had said that Sir Hugh had not answered the question put to him. "The chief constable did say that MI5 did share everything in respect of the murder inquiry, but the point of the question was their intelligence prior to the murders," he said.

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