The U.S. State Department’s annual report “Patterns of Global Terrorism” has highlighted the case of the three Irishmen who were arrested in Colombia last August. The report describes the “capture of . . . three Irish Republican Army members who have been charged with sharing their expertise and providing training on explosives in the FARC’s demilitarized zone.”
Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan were apprehended after coming from a demilitarized zone controlled by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is waging a war against the U.S.-backed Colombian government. The report cites the arrests as a “disturbing note” and an example of a link between different international terrorist groups. It includes a picture of the three men shortly after their arrest on Aug. 11 at Bogota airport. The report also mentions the loyalist Ulster Defense Association as a continuing threat to the Irish peace process, as well as mentioning the Continuity IRA and smaller loyalist groups that refuse to call cease-fires.
At a press conference last week, the State Department’s coordinator for counter terrorism, Francis Taylor, when asked about the three and possible IRA involvement in Colombia, said that “it’s clear that they were assisting the FARC in training and that the FARC’s ability to conduct bombing operations and other such operations has improved significantly in the last six to nine months.”
However, Taylor would not be specific about allegations concerning the IRA’s relationship to FARC. He said investigators had found no “direct connection” between the individuals and the “broader IRA.” Spokesmen for the republican movement have repeatedly stressed that the Sinn Fein and IRA leadership either did not know the three were traveling in Colombia or that they had not been ordered to do so by the Army Council, the IRA’s ruling body. The three have said that they were there to study the Colombian peace process, which has since collapsed.
Among those who are alleged to have visited Colombia are Brian Keenan, thought to be the adjutant to the IRA’s chief of staff, and Padraig Wilson, former commander of the IRA’s prisoners in the Maze Prison.
On May 19, a Dublin newspaper also identified a Dublin journalist Frank Connolly, the brother of Niall Connolly, as having visited Colombia the same time as Wilson, in April 2001. Connolly’s paper, the Sunday Business Post, of which he is deputy editor, adopted an adversarial position in regards to the Colombia story, suggesting that the allegations were part of an agenda whose aim was to undermine Sinn Fein’s credibility and damage the peace process in Northern Ireland. In March it carried a story alleging that defense contractors donated $12,000 to Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee. Hyde has been active in pursuing the links between FARC and the IRA, and his committee held hearings into the matter on April 24. The story clearly was intended to discredit Hyde by suggesting he was forwarding the interests of a defense industry that is keen to see the U.S. expand its role in supplying the Colombian government with hardware and money to help it fight the threat from FARC and other terror groups.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
About 15 years ago, Frank Connolly was questioned in connection with the attempted assassination of a English businessman in Dublin.
The State Department’s report also cited the presence of Niall Connolly in Cuba, where he has been a Sinn Fein representative for the last five years, as an instance of the continued linkage between various terrorist organizations and the Fidel Castro regime.
The trial of the three men is expected to be held sometime in June.