Basque bombers top up IRA's terror arsenal
Eta, the Basque terror group currently targeting British tourists in Spain, has recently supplied the IRA with fresh stocks of plastic explosives, according to detectives in Northern Ireland. The shipment - in direct breach of the 1997 Good Friday Agreement - is worrying security forces who fear that the IRA may be exporting bomb-making technology in return.
The British security service has monitored trips by senior IRA personnel to the continent this year, where it is believed the Republicans met Eta representatives. Eta, which is fighting for the independence of the Basque region from Spain, is behind a series of recent explosions aimed at holidaymakers.
The batch of explosives, delivered to the IRA within the past year, is thought to be the American-made C4, a highly-efficient bomb-making material. Detectives believe that the shipment will allow the IRA to make a symbolic gesture by handing over some of its out-of-date Semtex explosive without losing its bombing capabilities. The handover, expected later this summer, would also enable the IRA to claim that it was fulfilling a key demand of the Ulster Unionists, even though the explosives decommissioned will be beyond their useful life.
One senior official said last night: "It would actually help the IRA if they handed over some or all of their Semtex shortly. It would be like a normal householder dumping a fridge or freezer at the local dump, leaving the council with the tricky problem of disposing of it. "The IRA have been aware of the problem for some time and have been making bombs with unusually large amounts of Semtex."
Eta is likely to have obtained the new C4 explosives from the FARC guerillas in Colombia, who form the richest terrorist group in the world because of their sideline in cocaine trafficking. Three IRA men are still in detention in Colombia after being caught there allegedly training FARC members and building a new kind of bomb with unrivalled explosive power.
The arrest in Colombia last August of James Monaghan and Martin McCauley, suspected IRA figures, has heightened concerns at the triangular relationship between the three terrorist groups. Of the three, the IRA has the most experience of bomb-making, fuelling concerns that it has played a role in Eta's bombing campaign of Spanish resorts. Nial Connolly, regarded by the Cuban authorities as Sinn Fein's representative there, was also arrested. He speaks fluent Spanish and has studied in Spain. Mr Monaghan is regarded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Garda Special Branches as the most senior figure in the IRA's bomb-making hierarchy. He is particularly skilful at adaptions of everyday components for use in the construction of deadly devices. Mr McCauley is also considered a specialist bomb-maker, while Mr Connolly was considered to be acting as an interpreter for the trip into the 18,000 square miles of territory controlled by FARC.
In October 2000, an Interpol conference in France discussed the link between Eta and the IRA. Eta emerged in the late 1970s as the most violent faction in Basque nationalism and contacts developed with the Provisional IRA. In 1979 Ruairi O Bradaigh, then president of Sinn Fein, addressed a meeting of Eta supporters in a Basque village. It was suspected that in 1988 Eta may have supplied the explosives for the three IRA members killed in Gibraltar by the SAS while attempting a major strike against a military target.
As links developed with Herri Batasuna - Eta's political wing - Brendan Hughes, the former IRA hunger striker, was flown to a press conference in Bilbao in 1990 to support an amnesty campaign for Eta prisoners. Members of Herri Batasuna regularly attend Sinn Fein annual conferences.