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FBI agent says Florida gun suspect admitted IRA link

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

An FBI agent has testified that one of the suspects in the Florida gun-running trial admitted he was working for the Provisional IRA.

FBI Agent Mark Hastbacka testified last week that defendant Conor Claxton admitted to membership of the paramilitary group and that he was shipping weapons abroad for use against British security services.

Claxton, Anthony Smyth and Martin Mullan are in the third week of their trial on gun-running conspiracy and terrorism charges. On Monday, the judge asked prosecutors to wrap up their case by the end of this week.

The three defendants were arrested along with Siobhan Browne, a fourth member of the alleged IRA smuggling operation, in July last year after federal authorities intercepted packages of handguns and ammunition mailed from Fort Lauderdale to Ireland and Britain.

Browne accepted a plea bargain on lesser weapons charges in February and she is expected to take the stand against the other three defendants.

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An American gun dealer, Edward Bluestein, also pleaded guilty and two weeks ago testified he sold dozens of guns to Browne and Smyth.

For prosecutors, the FBI agent’s testimony backed up evidence that the three defendants were working to send arms to the IRA. Already, the jury has seen dozens of handguns and fingerprint evidence the prosecution says links the defendants to the operation. Much of the prosecution evidence has come from forensic tests and has included testimony from British and Irish police and customs officials.

When they begin their defense, attorneys for the three defendants will likely present their clients as freedom fighters struggling against an oppressive British government. Another tack would be to show there is no evidence linking the defendants to weapons posted overseas.

On Monday, during cross-examination, agent Hastbacka faced four hours of questions on subjects ranging from the Good Friday agreement to shoot-to-kill policies. The judge allowed prosecution objections to most of the defense questioning.

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