- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2002

The training of Marxist rebels in Colombia by top Irish Republican Army weapons experts has led to a massive expansion of terrorist attacks that has killed 400 military and police officers in Colombia in the past 18 months, authorities said.
Colombian officials and a U.S. House investigation said at least seven and as many as 15 IRA members were involved in the training, which has centered on the IRA's long-standing use of long-range mortars and sophisticated car bombs with secondary explosions aimed at killing responding police and firefighters.
The newly expanded terrorist capabilities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials FARC, has resulted in 600 bombings of electrical towers, pipelines, bridges, reservoirs and cars in the past 18 months.
Colombian police witnessed the deaths of more than 10 percent of their bomb technicians in the past year as they sought to dismantle or neutralize car bombs.
"The IRA has had well-established links with the FARC narcoterrorists in Colombia since at least 1998," said a report released by the House Committee on International Relations.
"It appears they have been training in the FARC safe haven in explosives management, including mortar and car-bomb terrorist techniques, and possibly using the rural jungles of the safe haven as a location to test and improve the IRA's own terrorist weapons and techniques," the report said.
Colombian military officials said as many as 15 IRA members have traveled to that country since 1998, many of them meeting with the rebels in FARC-controlled areas of the country. Three IRA members face trial this summer on charges of training the FARC rebels.
Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, has denied any IRA involvement in the training of FARC guerrillas. But he refused last week to testify before the House International Relations Committee, which is investigating the IRA-FARC connection.
Recently, Colombian police discovered IRA manuals in a FARC-controlled area of the country, and a senior Irish police official, flown to Bogota by the Colombian government to examine the documents, concluded they were the same as those used by the IRA in Ireland.
House investigators, following a nine-month probe, said FARC's upgrade of its terrorist techniques had made the group an even "more dangerous" threat to the Western Hemisphere. They called FARC's new use of mobile mortars on trucks "strikingly similar" to known IRA explosives techniques and practices.
"Neither committee investigators nor the Colombians can find credible explanations for the increased, more sophisticated capacity for these specific terrorist tactics now being deployed by the FARC, other than IRA training," investigators said.
The three IRA members James Monaghan, Neil Connolly and John McCauley were arrested Aug. 11, 2001, at El Dorado Airport in Bogota, accused of training FARC rebels in the production and use of explosives.
Colombian police said the three were carrying false British passports and were found to have traces of explosives on their clothing and in their luggage. They also said they were identified by a FARC deserter from photographs as the same persons from whom he had received explosives training at a FARC safe haven.
According to Colombian police, the three initially claimed they were in the country to monitor peace efforts among the government of President Andres Pastrana and various rebel groups, but could not explain why they had assumed aliases and were using false passports.
A senior Latin American diplomat told House investigators he was "not surprised" the IRA had been brought in to train FARC rebels, saying it would be viewed as a counter to the $1.3 billion in U.S. anti-drug assistance, including helicopters, that went to the Pastrana government.
British intelligence officials said, according to the House report, that the training may have netted the IRA as much as $2 million from the nearly $1 billion the FARC makes each year in illicit drug sales. Ninety percent of the cocaine and 70 percent of the heroin that finds its way annually into the United States come from Colombia.
Of those IRA members arrested, Mr. Monaghan is a key figure in the IRA's engineering department which designs mortars, rockets and homemade bombs. Known to his colleagues as "Mortar Monaghan," British authorities said he designed the IRA's homemade mortar from a 1974 prototype known as the Mark I to the sophisticated Mark 18 Mortar, known as the "barracks buster."
Mr. Monaghan, 55, has been identified as a former member of the Executive Council of Sinn Fein. He was convicted in 1971 for possession of explosives and conspiracy and served three years in prison. Colombian authorities said he entered that country in July 2001 and less than a week later, traveled with Mr. Connolly and Mr. McCauley to an FARC-controlled area.
Mr. Connolly, 36, is considered one of the best weapons experts in the IRA and is believed to have first made contact with the FARC five years ago through ETA, the Basque terrorist group that specializes in bombings and assassinations of Spanish government officials.
Mr. McCauley, 38, is believed to be an expert in the production of weapons and mortars.
He served two years after his 1985 conviction in the illegal possession of firearms.
The three men face eight years in prison if convicted.
Gen. Fernando Tapias, chairman of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff, told the House committee last week he did not know if the IRA members had come to Colombia at the order of the organization's leadership, but had no other explanation for their presence in his country.
House investigators said that in light of the long history of "very strict IRA discipline against free-lancing by its membership," the only question that remained was "what the Sinn Fein leadership knew about these IRA activities in Colombia, and when did they learn of them."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide