MI5 agent tells court of RIRA arms plot

7 May 2010
The Irish News

A security services undercover operative has started to give evidence from behind screens in the trial of three Co Armagh men charged in connection with what has been described as an international arms smuggling plot by dissident republicans. The witness, known only as Amir, was hidden from view from everyone in Belfast Crown Court, except the judge Mr Justice Hart and lawyers.

The witness, who spoke with an English accent, did not reveal which branch of the security services he was working for but an earlier hearing was told the operation was part of an MI5 'sting' against the Real IRA.

Between them the trio, Paul Anthony John McCaugherty (43) from Beech Court, Desmond Paul Kearns (44) from Tannaghmore Green, both Lurgan, and 41-year-old Dermot Declan Gregory aka Michael Dermot from Concession Road in Crossmaglen, deny a total of seven charges.

Mr McCaugherty faces all seven charges - conspiring to possess firearms and explosives and using almost EUR46,000 for terrorist purposes, membership of 'The Irish Republican Army', and making the deeds of a Portuguese restaurant available for the purposes of terrorism.

Mr Kearns is accused with him of conspiring to possess firearms and explosives, while Mr Gregory is accused of making the deeds of the Alvor restaurant in Portugal available for the purposes of terrorism.

Amir told the court that he started work in August 2004 in an operation against Irish targets and his role was to glean information from a man regarding his activities and associates in Northern Ireland. He was told the man travelled widely in Europe buying goods and he was asked to bump into him and befriend him.

The witness said he knew the man as John and was shown a photograph of him. The court heard yesterday that he was in reality the accused Mr Kearns. Amir said he first met Mr Kearns outside a store in Luxembourg where he was buying cut-price cigarettes and he told him he could supply them at even cheaper rates.

After a series of meetings in bars in Brussels and Amsterdam, the witness said he sold Mr Kearns and a woman he was told was his wife Alison, cigarettes, laptops, clothes and jewellery before mentioning that he could get guns from Pakistan. Amir said at one meeting, Alison told him "You should go over to Ireland and supply them with weapons" but she subsequently denied that she'd been serious. However, in July 2005 the security services told Amir that he should introduce a weapons expert called Ejaz to Mr Kearns.

The witness said that when the subject of guns was raised, Mr Kearns said he would go back to his associates and see what they thought but he insisted he did not want to get involved in any meetings himself.

A tape recording of one meeting in an Amsterdam bar has been played in court.

The case continues.

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