- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

An appeals court in Colombia yesterday overturned a lower court ruling and sentenced three men suspected of being members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to 17 years in prison for training Marxist rebels in that country to build bigger and better bombs.

The Bogota High Court, responding to an appeal in the case by Colombia’s Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio, ordered the rearrest of James Monaghan, Martin John McCauley and Niall Connolly, who were barred from leaving the country pending the appeal.

“Today’s Colombia court decision provides the answer and appropriate punishment for training terrorists who target innocents and who traffic in deadly drugs to Americans and Europeans alike,” said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, which investigated the IRA’s role with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Colombian Judge Jaime Acosta had acquitted the men on April 26 of teaching FARC fighters how to make bombs, although he convicted them on a lesser charge of passport fraud. He sentenced them to terms ranging from 26 months to 44 months, although because of time served since their arrests, he ordered them freed once they paid fines of $6,500 each.

Mr. Hyde, Illinois Republican, yesterday said there “never was a benign explanation of why two IRA explosive experts using false passports were wandering around in the Colombian jungle with known members of the narcoterrorist guerrilla group FARC.”

Mr. Hyde had pushed for the congressional probe, seeking what he described as the “interlinkage” of global terrorist networks that used illicit drug proceeds and charitable fund raising to “finance terrorism and to support activities that threaten American national interests.”

Monaghan, Connolly and McCauley had been in custody since their August 2001 arrest at Bogota’s airport. At the time, congressional investigators said much of the evidence against the three was based on information from FARC defectors, including one who told police that he had been trained in explosives by McCauley and Monaghan.

The three Irish nationals denied the accusations, describing themselves as ecotourists and saying they visited FARC-controlled areas to study peace negotiations.

In April 2002, Gen. Fernando Tapias, then-chairman of Colombia’s joint chiefs of staff, told the International Relations Committee that FARC rebels were trained by the IRA to build bombs and upgrade their terrorist operations. He said “an onslaught of terrorist acts” included the bombing of 320 electrical towers, 30 bridges and 46 vehicles — attacks that killed 400 police and military officers and caused $500 million in damages.

Monaghan, 56, was identified by British authorities as the designer of the Mark 1B long-range mortar known as the “barracks buster.” Convicted in 1971 of possession of explosives, he served three years in prison. He also is a former member of the Sinn Fein Executive Council.

McCauley, 39, served two years in prison for his 1985 conviction for illegal possession of weapons. Commander of the IRA’s engineering department, he is an expert in using and producing weapons and mortars.

Connolly, 36, also is a weapons expert and is thought to have first made contact with the FARC five years ago through a Basque terrorist group that specializes in bombings and assassinations of Spanish government officials.

A 2002 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.

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