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British double-agent was in Real IRA's Omagh bomb team

Sunday Herald: Neil Mackay

Original Link: http://www.sundayherald.com/17827


SECURITY forces didn't intercept the Real IRA's Omagh bombing team because one of the terrorists was a British double-agent whose cover would have been blown as an informer if the operation was uncovered.

The security forces were forced to hope that their agent would provide them with intelligence to ensure that the bomb would go off without casualties. In the event, due to blundered telephone warnings, 29 people died on August 15 1998.

The revelations follow claims by another British double-agent in the IRA, Kevin Fulton (not his real name), that he phoned a warning to his RUC handlers 48 hours before the Omagh bombing that the Real IRA was planning an attack and gave details of one of the bombing team and the man's car registration.

The RUC chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan claims no such information was received, despite Fulton claiming to have a tape of a conversation with his handler in which the officer appears to admit the tip-off was received.

Both republican and intelligence sources say the RUC did not act on the information as one of the Omagh bombing team was a British informer. It is not known whether he was operating for the police, the army or MI5. There is speculation he may have also been working for the Garda -- the Irish police.

Last night, the Sunday Herald was told by republican sources that the Real IRA had launched an internal inquiry on Friday morning to find the spy in their midst. The man thought to be the agent is a senior member of the organisation.

Nuala O'Loan, the Northern Ireland ombudsman, has launched an inquiry into claims by Fulton that the RUC ignored his tip-off. John Reid, the Northern Ireland secretary, described Fulton's claims as 'unfounded allegations'.

One source said: 'The only reason the RUC would not act on a tip-off which stated a bomb was in the offing is if a member of the bombing team was a highly-placed agent and they needed to keep him in place.

'If the operation was allowed to go ahead then the agent would be seen as a good guy by the Real IRA; but if it failed, he could have come under suspicion of being an informer and been killed.'

Meanwhile, the republican movement was facing the complete collapse of its support base in Washington and across America over the arrest of three alleged IRA men with links to the drug-dealing Marxist terror group, FARC, in Colombia.

Republican congressman, Peter King, one of longest-standing supporters in Congress of Sinn Fein, said: 'If the IRA has done what it is accused of then that is inexcusable and disgraceful.'

King, seen by many in Northern Ireland as an IRA apologist, said allegations that the IRA was involved in a drugs-for-arms deal with FARC would have a 'serious impact' on Sinn Fein's standing in America. He added that the Bush administration wants answers. Bush has helped fund a 'war' against narco- terrorists in Colombia, including FARC, to combat the flood of drugs smuggled into the USA.

Richard Hass, the president's key advisor on Northern Ireland, has demanded a full explanation from Gerry Adams. Sinn Fein is hugely dependent on both political and financial support from the USA.

The party have been trying without success to distance themselves from the activities of the three men, despite the fact that one of them, Niall Connolly, was exposed by the Cuban government as Sinn Fein's official representative in Latin America.

King hinted that if Adams wished to preserve Sinn Fein's relationship with Capitol Hill he would have to prove that he was not linked to the 'hardcore of the IRA'. That will be difficult as it is an accepted fact that both Adams and Martin McGuinness are in regular contact with the IRA's ruling army council.

The three IRA suspects were last night facing deportation from Bogota as early as Wednesday. They would not automatically be sent to the country of their nationality. Instead they could be sent to a country for which they have visas. However, Britain could also request their extradition.

Also last night, came a glimmer of hope that the SDLP might accept Reid's proposals on police reform, which are a major stumbling block to peace. All sides must decide by Tuesday if they will nominate representatives to the Policing Board set up to oversee the transition from the RUC to the new service, which Sinn Fein has already rejected.