N. Irish militant found guilty in MI5 gun case

30 June 2010
Reuters News
Andras Gergely in Dublin / editing: David Stamp

A Northern Irish court found a Republican militant guilty on Wednesday of plotting to smuggle in weapons and explosives via a dealer, who turned out to be an agent of Britain's MI5 spy agency.

Paul McCaugherty, who had admitted to being a member of the Real IRA splinter group, had denied charges including conspiring to obtain arms and explosives and using money for the purposes of terrorism.

McCaugherty, 43, was one of three men from County Armagh arrested following an MI5 sting operation between 2004 and 2006.

The court heard that McCaugherty's shopping list included 100 kg of plastic explosives, 20 AK47 assault rifles, 10 sniper rifles, 20 handguns and 20 rocket propelled grenade launchers, and several arm-burst launchers capable of taking out armoured vehicles.

Judge Anthony Hart rejected the defence's argument that McCaugherty had been "entrapped or induced" by the "role-playing agent" known as "Ali", whom he met on various occasions in places including Amsterdam and Istanbul.

"The case against the defendant on each of the counts is an extremely compelling one," Hart said. "Just because the weapons were never to be delivered and that the whole thing was a sham, does not mean McCaugherty is not guilty of these offences."

McCaugherty was remanded in custody pending sentencing in September.

A 1998 peace agreement largely ended three decades of violence between predominantly Catholic groups who want a united Ireland and mainly Protestant unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The main paramilitary organisations on both sides, such as the Provisional IRA, have surrendered their weapons, but militant splinter groups have stepped up attacks recently.

The Real IRA claimed responsibility for a bomb which exploded near MI5's Northern Irish headquarters in April and for the killing of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland in March 2009.

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