RIRA plot to kill general

4 July 2010
The Sunday Life
Ciaran Barnes

The REAL IRA wanted to pay a Balkan hitman to murder a top British army general responsible for operations in Bosnia.

The plan to kill Sir Michael Rose -- which could come straight from the pages of a spy novel -- was the brainchild of Lurgan terror boss Paul McCaugherty.

The 43-year-old was found guilty last week of trying to smuggle weapons and explosives into Northern Ireland.

McCaugherty -- who boasted "his" organisation built the 1998 Omagh bomb -- was arrested following an elaborate two-year security services sting operation.

The man he thought was arranging the weapons shipments, 'Amir', was in fact an undercover MI5 agent posing as a Pakistani arms dealer.

McCaugherty, who quit as a Sinn Fein supporter in protest at IRA decommissioning, met him six times between August 2004 and June 2006 in various locations including Amsterdam, Bruges and Istanbul.

As well as trying to buy rockets, explosives, assault rifles, sniper rifles and handguns, the Real IRA boss also asked Amir to arrange for an Eastern European hitman to assassinate Sir Michael Rose.

The 70-year-old retired army general was the commander of the United Nations (UN) Protection Force in Bosnia during the Balkan War.

During his time in charge, from 1994 to 1995, UN forces called in a number of air strikes against Bosnian-Serbs involved in massacres in the region.

"McCaugherty asked Amir did he know any Balkan hitmen who would kill Sir Michael Rose at his home in England," a police source told Sunday Life.

"He said that the Real IRA would pay the hitman, do all the targeting and offer support. All the guy had to do was show up and pull the trigger.

"McCaugherty reckoned that there shouldn't be any problems finding a former Serb soldier to do the job.

"He talked about Sir Michael's former role in Bosnia as head of the UN peacekeeping forces and how the Serbs hated him as much as dissident republicans."

McCaugherty claimed his gang had already carried out surveillance on an address in England where they believed Sir Michael had been staying.

Amir reported the taped conversations back to his M15 bosses who arranged for elite police units in England to increase security around Sir Michael.

The former army chief was spoken to by police and made aware of the threat and McCaugherty's claims.

McCaugherty agreed to pay covert operative Amir £85,300 for 100kg of plastic explosives, 20 AK47 assault rifles, 20 handguns, 10 sniper rifles and 20 RPG grenade launchers.

He handed over £41,000 in three deposits, and arranged for the non-existent cache to be brought to a house he owned in the south of France before his arrest in June 2006.

McCaugherty planned to use the proceeds of the sale of huge shipments of cheap smuggled cigarettes to help arm the Real IRA.

A 2006 court hearing was told that the Lurgan republican was "second-in-command" of the Real IRA.

Convicted alongside McCaugherty for a lesser role in the arms plot was self-confessed agent Dermot Declan Gregory from Crossmaglen.

He was found guilty of buying a restaurant in Portugal with the intention of selling it on and giving the proceeds to the Real IRA.

Gregory also claimed during police interviews that veteran south Armagh republican Seamus McKenna had forced him to hand over the deeds to the business.

McKenna was the subject of a civil action by the families of the Omagh bomb victims who accused him of masterminding the 1998 massacre in which 29 people were killed. However he was the only one of four defendants found not liable.

Referring to McKenna, car dealer Gregory said: "Before the Omagh bomb, he called to my yard looking for a light for an Almera and I think it was a Nissan Almera that was involved in the scouting of that."

A third man, 44-year-old Desmond Kearns, was also charged with trying to smuggle guns, but his trial was halted last month when a judge ruled he had been wrongfully entrapped by MI5.

McCaugherty and Gregory will be sentenced later this year.

Convicting McCaugherty at Belfast Crown Court last Wednesday, judge Mr Justice Hart said: "It was an elaborate and successful hoax that completely fooled McCaugherty into thinking Ali was a genuine arms dealer".

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