- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

The Irish Republican Army, despite steadfastly denying involvement with Marxist rebels in Colombia, is using that South American country to develop new weapons that include advanced bombs, a newly released British intelligence report says.

"The PIRA have been using Colombia as a training ground to carry out tests with their engineering department as they are no longer able to use the Irish Republic due to the current political climate," the report said, referring to the Provisional IRA, the formal name of the IRA.

The report, made public by the British Broadcasting Corp., said IRA involvement in Colombia allowed the organization "free range to explore the new prototype of devices." Three IRA members two of whom were members of the IRA's engineering department have since been arrested in Colombia.

The three, James Monaghan, Neil Connolly and John McCauley, were arrested in August 2001 in Bogota and accused of training guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the nation's dominant Marxist rebel group.

Their trial is scheduled to begin this summer.

British intelligence officials said the IRA's move to Colombia marked an attempt to keep the organization especially its engineering department intact and functional in case Northern Ireland's peace process falters and fighting resumes.

Mr. Monaghan, 55, led the IRA's engineering department and has been identified by British authorities as the designer of the sophisticated Mark 1B long-range mortar known as the "barracks buster."

He is a former member of the Sinn Fein Executive Council and was convicted in 1971 for possession of explosives and served three years in prison.

Mr. McCauley, 38, is the former second-in-command of the IRA's engineering department. He is an expert in using and producing weapons and mortars and served two years in prison after his conviction in 1985 for the illegal possession of weapons.

Connolly, 36, also is a weapons expert 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..

The Washington Times reported last month that members of the FARC have met with more than a dozen IRA leaders during the past three years, including a confidant of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Colombian military and police officials, British intelligence officers and U.S. House investigators said the meetings were part of an effort by the FARC to upgrade its weaponry and escalate its ability to wage urban terrorism.

Among the IRA leaders believed to have been at the meetings was Padraig Wilson, 44, a convicted bomber and former commander of IRA inmates at the Maze prison, near Belfast.

Wilson, a longtime confidant of Mr. Adams, was freed in December 1999 after serving eight years of a 24-year sentence. His release came as part of the Belfast Agreement, an April 1998 initiative informally known as the Good Friday Accord, which was intended to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

He was sentenced to prison after British authorities caught him making a booby-trapped bomb. He is also a weapons and explosives specialist.

Since his release, Wilson has played a key public role in persuading IRA members to support the peace process. Last year, he was given temporary parole to attend with Mr. Adams a special meeting of Sinn Fein's ruling council in Dublin to discuss ratifying the Belfast Agreement.

But the sources say Wilson is believed to have been among as many as 15 IRA members who traveled to Colombia during the past three years to meet with FARC leaders, who have since escalated their terrorist campaign against the Colombian government.

A report by the General Command of the Colombian military forces said IRA members were escorted to FARC-controlled areas of the country to train the rebels in "terrorism, explosives and military tactics." The report said terrorist tactics used by the FARC "were taught by members of the IRA."

House investigators said the IRA was paid $2 million for members of its engineering department to teach the FARC how to build booby-trapped bombs and to produce a version of the IRA's "barracks buster" mortar.

Mr. Adams, president of Sinn Fein, a political party allied with the IRA, has denied involvement by the IRA in training FARC guerrillas. He recently told the Irish Times "with certainty" that the three men arrested in Colombia did not represent Sinn Fein and that he did not authorize them to be in Colombia in connection with the party.

In testimony last month before the House International Relations Committee, Gen. Fernando Tapias, chairman of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff, attributed an "onslaught of terrorist acts" during the past 18 months to IRA training.

Gen. Tapias, who said the bombings killed 400 police and military officers, told the committee that he did not know whether the IRA members were in Colombia at the order of the organization's leadership but that there was no doubt they had trained the FARC in using explosives and other weapons.

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