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Dissident IRA Figure Convicted

August 07, 2003|From Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ireland — An anti-terrorist court, accepting the testimony of a paid FBI informer, convicted the alleged leader of a dissident Irish Republican Army faction on Wednesday of directing terrorism -- the first such conviction in Irish history.

Michael McKevitt, 53, was also found guilty of membership in an illegal organization, the Real IRA, which was involved in the deadliest explosion in Northern Ireland's three decades of violence.

McKevitt reportedly formed the Real IRA to protest the IRA's 1997 decision to abandon its campaign against British rule in favor of peace talks, producing the Good Friday agreement of 1998. The Real IRA bombed more than a dozen Northern Ireland towns that year, culminating in a car-bomb attack in Omagh on Aug. 15, 1998, that killed 29 people and wounded more than 200.

McKevitt, who earlier had dismissed his defense lawyers, did not appear in court Wednesday but announced later he planned to appeal.

Sentencing was set for today.

The charge of directing terrorism, which was created after the attack in Omagh, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Relatives of some of the 29 people killed in the attack welcomed the verdict by the three-judge panel at Dublin's Special Criminal Court.

"I'm absolutely delighted the verdict has gone the way it has," said Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son, Aiden, was killed. "He [McKevitt] cannot orchestrate another atrocity."

The prosecution's key witness was David Rupert, an American trucker recruited by the FBI in 1994 to penetrate Irish extremist groups in Ireland and the United States. He was paid $1.25 million for his undercover work.

In announcing the verdict, Justice Richard Johnson said McKevitt was convicted of offenses committed after the car-bomb attack.

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