By Patrick Markey
In a rambling statement from the stand, one of the defendants in the Florida gun-running trial told a court that he was an international representative of the Sinn Fein and operated for the IRA in Sierra Leone and Eastern Europe and brought weapons to fight for peace.
Conor Claxton took the stand last week and early this week to tell the jury he had acted to help prevent the collapse of the peace process by keeping weapons out of the hands of dissidents and Irish Americans opposed to the Good Friday agreement.
Claxton’s statements come as the Fort Lauderdale trial moves to its final stages. The prosecution presented an array of police and law enforcement witnesses, but attorneys for the defense appear set to close their arguments this week.
Claxton and the two other defendants, Anthony Smyth and Martin Mullan, were arrested last year and charged with illegally shipping weapons and providing aid to terrorists with the intent to maim and murder.
If convicted on the terrorism charges they face life in prison.
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Last year, federal agents uncovered scores of weapons that they said were mailed in packages disguised as toys and electronic equipment. Prosecutors showed hundreds of fingerprints, which they say link Claxton to the handguns and ammunition sent to the UK and Ireland.
Prosecutors believe much of the evidence links Claxton to the mailed weapons, although Smyth and Mullan have said they knew nothing of the operation.
Much of the last week’s defense testimony has focused on the history of Northern Ireland and the struggle of the republican movement to gain independence from the British army. Claxton claimed he had worked for eight years as a member of the IRA and traveled to gain support for the republican movement.