- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

The Supreme Court in Colombia has upheld the convictions in that country of three former Irish Republican Army (IRA) members convicted and later sentenced to prison for providing explosives training to Colombia’s leftist rebels.

The high court’s ruling affirmed convictions in 2004 by an appeals court of Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley, who in 2003 had been found not guilty by a trial judge of training rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to build bigger and better bombs.

Connolly, Monaghan and McCauley, known as the “Colombian Three,” fled to Ireland while prosecutors in Colombia appealed the trial judge’s verdict.

Trial Judge Jaime Acosta in Bogota had acquitted the men in August 2003 of teaching FARC fighters how to make bombs, although he convicted them on lesser charges of passport fraud. He sentenced them to terms ranging from 26 months to 44 months. Because of the time they had already served since their arrests on Aug. 11, 2001, he ordered them freed once they paid fines of $6,500 each.

In April 2004, the attorney general’s office in Colombia appealed the verdict to the Court of Appeals and in December 2004, the appeals court overturned the not-guilty verdict, finding the men guilty of training the FARC rebels and ordering them to 17-year prison sentences.

Monaghan, Connolly and McCauley had been arrested at Bogota International Airport for traveling on false passports and were found to have spent five weeks traveling through a demilitarized southern zone of Colombia, then under the control of the FARC.

Monaghan and McCauley had arrived in Colombia on June 30, 2001, on a flight from Belfast via Paris. Connolly had flown from Dublin via Madrid, spending a day in Caracas before making a rendezvous in Bogota. They denied the charges, 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 U.S. House 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, 61, 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, 44, 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, 42, 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.

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