- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

U.S. congressional investigators say they were “shocked” when a Colombian judge acquitted three reputed members of the Irish Republican Army accused of training Marxist rebels to build bigger and better bombs.

“It’s quite clear the legal system in Colombia is broken,” said one House investigator, who participated in a months-long inquiry into the charges. “This decision shows you exactly why the United States seeks to extradite suspected criminals from Colombia to stand trial in this country.”

Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley were acquitted April 26 after a trial before Colombian Judge Jaime Acosta on charges they trained members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in bomb-building techniques.

Convicted only of traveling to Colombia on false passports, they were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 26 to 44 months, fined $19,500 and ordered to be expelled from the country after serving their time.

The Rev. Sean McManus, who heads the Washington-based Irish National Caucus, said the acquittals show that the arrests were intended to discredit Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and derail peace negotiations in Ireland. He said the men were unjustly arrested and are due an apology, particularly by the American press.

“The tone and tenor of the media coverage here was grossly unfair,” Father McManus said.

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

The three Irish nationals denied the accusations, describing themselves as eco-tourists and saying they visited FARC-controlled areas to study peace negotiations. Despite offers by the Irish government to pay the fines, they will remain in custody pending an appeal by Colombia’s Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio

In April 2002, Gen. Fernando Tapias, then-chairman of Colombia’s joint chiefs of staff, told the House Committee on International Relations that Marxist rebels in his country 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 were increasingly proficient after the arrival of the IRA. The bombings killed 400 police and military officers and caused $500 million in damage, he said.

Gen. Tapias said the IRA membership of the three men was verified by the Colombian military, adding that there was evidence that they trained the FARC in the use of explosives and in other nonconventional arms and tactics.

A month earlier in the United States, Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, said during a hearing that the IRA helped Colombia make a “quantum leap” in the proficiency of their terrorist tactics. He said the IRA’s involvement with the FARC threatened democracy in that country and U.S. personnel in Colombia.

Mr. Hyde 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, 56, was identified by British authorities as the designer of the Mark 1B long-range mortar known as the “barracks buster.” He was convicted in 1971 of possession of explosives and served three years in prison. McCauley, 39, also served two years in prison for his 1985 conviction for illegal possession of weapons.

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