By Patrick Markey
A BBC documentary being released this week claims prosecutors may try to link four Irish nationals arrested in an alleged Florida gun-running ring to the Provisional IRA, and also claims the case could be linked to an earlier attempt to buy missiles for the IRA in Miami.
The BBC’s "Tonight Spotlight" program suggests that the operation was not a bungled free-lance operation, but was "exceptionally well funded and its network was much more sophisticated and extensive."
" ‘Tonight Spotlight’ reveals for the first time details of the prosecution case, which could put the Provisional movement in the dock and deliver the fatal shot to an already wounded peace process," according to the documentary script.
The four defendants in the case — Siobhan Browne, Conor Claxton, Martin Mullan and Anthony Smith — are being held in federal custody in Fort Lauderdale. Attorneys in the case are now working on evidence discovery and an appearance date is set for November.
All four were arrested in July after British authorities intercepted a package of weapons — mainly handguns and ammunition — mailed from Fort Lauderdale to Ireland.
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Spotlight producers obtained U.S. Attorney office notes from an interview with Claxton in which he allegedly claimed to be operating for the IRA.
"Claxton acknowledged that he was sent by someone higher up in his organization, the Provisional IRA, whom he would not identify," the documentary quotes.
Abe Bailey, Claxton’s attorney, has denied his client made those comments. Browne’s attorney also denies she knew why the guns were being purchased.
The documentary outlines how the FBI, Interpol and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau tracked the four suspects and how Browne had already been "red-flagged" by investigators for potential terrorist involvement.
Former republican activists in the U.S. appear in the documentary to criticize the lack of support for the four defendants.
But "Spotlight" also suggests that the Florida operation had links with another arm- smuggling case.