- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

JERUSALEM — An Irishman arrested on the West Bank over the weekend apparently is not the Real IRA master bomb maker as suspected by Israeli officials.

British intelligence, which informed Israel of the terrorist background of the man, John Morgan, is re-examining that information after a Belfast newspaper said he was one of its correspondents and an upstanding member of the community.

An Irish police source told the Tel Aviv daily Ha’aretz that British security service had no up-to-date photograph of John Morgan, the bomb specialist, and had identified him to Israel only by his name and age.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers early today freed unharmed an Israeli who was held by Palestinians in the West Bank for five days in a kidnapping that raised further questions about the stability of a fragile truce.

The release of taxi driver Eliahu Gurel came a day after a Palestinian fatally stabbed an Israeli strolling along the Tel Aviv seaside promenade with his girlfriend in an attack that rattled the cease-fire crucial to a U.S.-backed peace plan.

Bomber Morgan “disappeared three years ago as if the earth swallowed him, and we began to suspect he was up to something,” the source said.

Following the tip-off from the British, Israeli security forces staged an intensive search last week, arresting the John Morgan they were looking for, at an improvised roadblock as he was driving near Ramallah. He had entered Israel as a tourist three weeks before, was of the same approximate age as bomber Morgan and spent his time since on the West Bank.

The report of his arrest drew a strong protest from Ciaran O Pronntaigh, editor of La, a Gaelic newspaper, who said that Mr. Morgan, whose Gaelic name is Sean O’Muireagain, was not connected to the Real IRA but was a Belfast journalist and educator. He is also reportedly a member of the Irish-Palestinian Solidarity Movement, which sends volunteers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip to assist Palestinians, but the movement denies any connection.

Mr. O’Muireagain’s friends told reporters that he was taking a vacation in the territories to look for ways to create links between Palestinian and Irish schools. The principal of a West Belfast school, Pilib Mist Il, said Mr. O’Muireagain was chairman of the school’s board of governors.

“We had agreed to task him with linking our school with a primary school in Jenin,” he said. “His arrest is a disgrace, and he should be set free immediately.”

Israel is still holding Mr. Morgan as it checks his identity and a British consular official has requested a meeting with him.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli to death in Tel Aviv yesterday, the first such attack inside Israel since Palestinian militant groups agreed to a cease-fire on June 29.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, one of the militant groups Israel demands the Palestinian Authority disarm, claimed responsibility for the killing.

The attacker, armed with a long double-bladed dagger, tried to enter a seaside restaurant, and when a security guard stopped him, he stabbed the guard in the neck before fleeing.

He then came across 24-year-old Amir Simhon, who was sitting on a bench on the seaside promenade with his girlfriend. The Palestinian targeted the woman but stabbed Mr. Simhon when he intervened to save her.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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