Terrorists plotted to kill SAS chief

4 July 2010
The Sunday Times
John Mooney

Republican dissidents secretly planned to murder Sir Michael Rose, a retired British army general who commanded the SAS.

Paul McCaugherty, then second-in-command of Oglaigh na hEireann (OnH), a republican faction, discussed the idea with an undercover MI5 agent posing as an arms dealer.

McCaugherty intended to target Rose at his Shropshire home, and had his personal details on a piece of paper which he said he had obtained from a journalist. "We've found that man," the republican told the agent.

Security sources believe dissidents wanted to kill Rose because he had served in Northern Ireland and was a well-known figure.

In 2006, the general called for the impeachment of Tony Blair, then prime minister, for leading Britain into war in Iraq.

Transcripts of conversations between McCaugherty and the MI5 agent, known as Ali, show the republican did not think Rose had bodyguards, but thought he might carry a firearm.

"I would imagine that... he is long enough out of the armed forces that any security detail that he may have had has lapsed," he said.

He suggested that the killing could be a joint venture between OnH and Ali's gang, which he thought was hostile to the British Army. He suggested Ali could claim responsibility for the killing, and offered to provide a "trigger man" to shoot Rose in winter as he walked around his farm.

Kidnapping was also discussed, but McCaugherty decided against this because-Rose "deserved to die". He was arrested shortly afterwards.

McCaugherty, 43, a taxi driver from Lurgan, Armagh, was last week found guilty at Belfast Crown Court of trying to import weapons and explosives.

The court was told that the republican had given tens of thousands of euros to Ali as a downpayment to supply arms.

McCaugherty yawned as he was found guilty by Justice Hart, who described the operation against him as an "elaborate and successful" hoax. The MI5 operation began as an intelligence-gathering exercise against OnH, a faction of the Real IRA, but developed into a potential prosecution. Ali posed as a Pakistani arms dealer, and held meetings with the taxi driver in Bruges, Amsterdam and Istanbul in 2006.

The plot against Rose was devised by McCaugherty after the MI5 agent casually mentioned the general's name. It was when the two met at a bar in Bruges to conclude an arms deal that McCaugherty claimed to have found Rose.

McCaugherty, who called himself Tim, wanted assault rifles, rocket-launchers and explosives. OnH also wanted grenades to attack police in summer when their Land Rover back doors were open.

McCaugherty claimed OnH had compromised a customs official who agreed to assist with smuggling arms. He boasted that OnH used a refrigerated lorry with a false bottom to smuggle weapons into Ireland from the continent.

MI5 made contact with McCaugherty through another agent who offered his friends cheap cigarettes in a "chance" encounter in Luxembourg, the court was told. The first agent, posing as a street dealer called Amir, mentioned he knew someone who could supply weapons while selling cigarettes to a couple from Armagh friendly with McCaugherty. The offer was allegedly relayed to McCaugherty, who agreed to meet Amir's contact, Ali.

McCaugherty's trial was the first time in 20 years that MI5 agents have given evidence in a Belfast court, although Amir demanded an honour from the Queen and payment of £650,000 for doing so. He said he would not have participated if he had known he would be asked to give evidence and agreed to testify only after being threatened with arrest.

Dermot Declan Gregory, a scrap dealer from Armagh who was not a member of OnH, was also convicted of making a Portuguese property available for use by terrorists.

Gregory is in protective custody as he offered to become an informer after his arrest. He and McCaugherty will be sentenced in September.

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