- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

Marxist rebels in Colombia, seeking to escalate terrorist attacks against that country's government, have met with more than a dozen Irish Republican Army leaders in the past three years, including a trusted confidant of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, authorities said.
Colombian military and police officials, British intelligence officers and U.S. House investigators say the meetings are part of an ongoing effort by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, to upgrade its ability to wage urban terrorism.
Among the IRA leaders believed to have been at the meetings, the sources said, was Padraig Wilson, 44, a convicted bomber and former commander of IRA inmates at the Maze prison near Belfast who had been identified as a longtime Adams confidant.
Wilson was freed in December 1999 after serving eight years of a 24-year sentence as part of the Belfast Agreement, an April 1998 initiative informally known as the Good Friday accord, which was aimed at bringing peace to Northern Ireland.
Since his release, Wilson has played a key public role in persuading IRA members to support the peace process. Last year, as part of that process, he was given temporary parole to attend with Mr. Adams a special meeting of Sinn Fein's ruling council in Dublin to discuss the ratification of the Belfast Agreement.
But the sources say Wilson is believed to have been among as many as 15 IRA members who have traveled to Colombia since 1999 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 deadly "barracks buster" mortar.
Three IRA members, James Monaghan, Neil Connolly and John McCauley, were arrested in August 2001 in Bogota, accused of training FARC rebels. Their trial is scheduled to begin this summer.
Mr. Monaghan, 55, headed 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." A former member of the Sinn Fein executive council, he was convicted in 1971 for possession of explosives and served three years in prison.
Mr. McCauley, 38, has been identified as the former second-in-command of the IRA's engineering department. An expert in the use and production of weapons and mortars, he served two years in prison after his 1985 conviction for the illegal possession of weapons.
Mr. 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.
Wilson, the longtime Adams confidant, was sentenced to prison after British authorities caught him making a booby-trapped bomb. He also is believed to be a weapons and explosives specialist.
Mr. Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, has denied any involvement by the organization in the training of 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.
"The IRA has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia and will not do so," the IRA said in a statement. "The IRA is fully committed to a successful outcome of the Irish peace process. The threat to that process does not come from the IRA."
In testimony last week before the House International Relations Committee, Gen. Fernando Tapias, chairman of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff, attributed an "onslaught of terrorist acts" over the past 18 months including the bombing of 320 electrical towers, 30 bridges and 46 car bombings to IRA training.
Gen. Tapias, who said the bombings killed 400 police and military officers, told the committee he did not know if the IRA members were in Colombia at the order of the organization's leadership, but there was no doubt they had trained the FARC in the use of explosives and other weapons.
The FARC and six of its members were named in a federal grand jury indictment Tuesday in the 1999 murders of three Americans.


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