By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department on Monday added for the first time two loyalist groups to its list of terrorist organizations. The Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders, small but lethal loyalist organizations, were cited in the report, which also highlighted the killing of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in March of 1999 as an act of terrorism.
"Among the most heinous attacks was the car-bombing murder on March 15 of Rosemary Nelson, a prominent lawyer and human rights campaigner," the report read with a photograph of Nelson’s bombed car beside a photograph taken before the bombing of the mother of three. The caption under the photos stated, "The Red Hand Defenders took responsibility for the killing of Rosemary Nelson."
In a carefully worded entry in the Great Britain section of the report, the State Department officials observed, "Although it is widely assumed that hardline loyalist paramilitaries were responsible, no charges were filed in the case."
The two groups were not listed in the State Department’s report issued earlier in the year as "designated foreign terrorist organizations," which would freeze the groups’ assets, make members ineligible for U.S. visas and outlaw financial support to the groups.
Monday’s report noted the existence of IRA splinter groups in the 1999 report, but singled out the Orange Volunteers in its "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report for "bombings, acts of arson, beatings and possibly robberies."
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"It [the Orange Volunteers] seeks to prevent a political settlement with Irish nationalists by attacking Catholic civilian interests in Northern Ireland," the report said.
"In the United Kingdom, the Good Friday accords effectively kept the de facto peace while the various parties continued to seek a resolution through negotiations," it stated.
"The Irish Republican Army’s refusal to abandon its caches of arms remained the principal stumbling block. Some breakaway terrorist factions — both loyalist and republican — attempted to undermine the process through low-level bombings and other terrorist activity," it noted.
No Northern Irish groups are listed currently on the designated list of terrorists, which carries with it more serious ramifications for anyone the U.S. found to be supporting a listed group. The announcement this week sends a message that the State Department is "keeping its eyes" on the named organizations.
"At this time, other groups, splinter groups or other groups on both sides of that equations [republican and loyalists], can be under review for designation as a terrorist organization, but none have been done so at this time," U.S. counter-terrorism chief Michael Sheehan told reporters at a news conference.
He said both the Irish and British governments have asked the State Department to refrain from adding groups currently engaged in the cease fire.
"We were asked . . . both by the Irish and the British sides, not to designate the IRA or those other groups because the cease-fire was in place and holding," Sheehan said.