Category: Archive

Croat weapons believed headed for dissidents

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Top-level discussions about possible new measures to deal with the developing threat to the peace process from an intensification of terrorist attacks by dissident republican groups have been taking place in Belfast, Dublin and London.

A substantial shipment of arms, including collapsible shoulder-fired rocket launchers, an RPG22 rocket launcher, automatic rifles, plastic explosives and other bomb-making material were seized near the Croatian port of Split, apparently destined for dissident republican groups.

Following the July 13 seizures in the village of Dobranje, Special Branch officers from Dublin traveling to the former Yugoslav republic to meet with the Croatian police who arrested three local men.

The size of the seizure has alarmed politicians and security chiefs, since it would have been the biggest consignment of arms to reach Ireland since the shiploads of Libyan weaponry imported by the Provisional IRA in the 1980s.

The growing dissident threat was on the agenda Monday during a Downing Street meeting between Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair that dealt mainly with RUC reform.

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The two premiers reviewed progress in the peace process, the latest security reports on dissident activity and various options to deal with them.

Dissident activity has also been central to recent talks between Foreign Minister Brian Cowen and Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Mandelson, and Irish Justice Minister John O’Donoghue and British Home Secretary Jack Straw.

Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne and RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan also met for talks in Dublin last week.

When initial details of the Croatian seizure were released, local police only said the guns were destined for "international terrorist organizations." The Irish connection did not emerge until last week.

The slabs of plastic explosive, sophisticated detonators and a fuse cord in the Croatian haul would be capable of several Omagh-sized blasts if they were mixed with home-made fertilizer-based explosive.

Croatia and its ports on the Adriatic Sea have become the center of a Balkan arms bazaar since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Well-established smuggling rings either trade the weapons locally to Albanian Kosovars or ship them across to Italian ports for further distribution.

The dissidents have tapped into the illicit market for the weapons and are believed to be funding purchases from the proceeds of cross-border fuel and cigarette smuggling rackets.

At least one other Real IRA consignment is believed to have reached Ireland. Gardai seized similar weapons last October when they raided a dissident training bunker in Stamullen, Co. Meath.

That seizure included RPG22 rocket launchers — more powerful than anything similar used by the Provisional IRA — plastic explosive and electric detonators.

The RIRA, which claims to be on cease-fire following the Omagh bombing in August 1998 that killed 29 and injured hundreds more, and the Continuity IRA, which is claimed to be the military wing of Republican Sinn Fein, are believed to be cooperating in efforts to import arms.

While no Irish people were arrested in Croatia, gardai arrested a man from the border area of Louth. He was questioned for three days before being released without charge.

The dissidents appear to have cells well established in Britain. Recent bomb attacks on Hammersmith Bridge and on a railway line in Ealing caused commuter chaos.

Commissioner Byrne said later at a Garda graduation ceremony that he was not surprised the dissidents had the capacity to mount fresh operations in Britain.

"When you look back historically in relation to paramilitary activity in Britain, it follows the same modus operandi," he said. "They obviously have some people over there — whether it is one or two active service units is something I will not go into — but it is quite obvious they have people over there and they have been there for some time.

"They are following a particular trend. They want to create problems in Britain and put pressure on everybody, but we will do our level best to make sure they don’t achieve that."

On the question of a blurring between groups with an apparent merger of the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, the commissioner said the primary group are the Real IRA and it’s membership north and south of the border.

He said they were in "recruitment mode" and any attack or incident assisted them in attracting more people into their ranks.

Byrne stressed that no matter how small a terrorist organization is, it was its capacity to operate and its adeptness in carrying out military operations that were important.

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