Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Dissident republicans behind bars: Police and MI5 surveillance - the weapon disrupting terror plots

'Watching and listening' leads to court successes

Dissidents behind bars
Dissidents behind bars

The security forces are bringing the fight directly to dissident republicans – with a spike in the number of terror cases before the courts.

A senior security source last night pointed to a series of recent high-profile arrests and convictions of dissidents as evidence of the strength of the intelligence-gathering operations carried out by MI5 and police.

Among the intelligence-led security force successes in recent weeks have been the jailing of an Omagh man for 10 years in relation to a large cache of weapons and explosives, and imprisonment of four dissidents for a total of 36 years for similar offences.

A security force source told the Belfast Telegraph the goal was to saturate dissident factions using ever-evolving intelligence techniques. This includes the use of surveillance to monitor the activities of the terror groups.

"It's about watching and listening. In recent months you have seen damage can be done to these groups from that sustained intelligence-gathering."

And a former IRA hunger striker has said that advances in surveillance have given the security forces "permanent eyes and ears" inside dissident heartlands.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told MPs in the Commons this week there were 30 national security attacks in Northern Ireland during 2013, with more than half taking place between October and December.

"The threat continues to be tackled and suppressed and there have been some significant successes by the security forces which should bring both immediate and longer term benefits," she said.

She singled out three recent operations as evidence of the scale of the intelligence network.

e The charging of republican Colin Duffy with conspiracy to murder and IRA membership. Two other men were separately charged in connection with a murder bid on a police patrol in north Belfast, when shots were fired at officers at a sectarian interface.

e The discovery of materials allegedly designed for homemade explosives. A couple were arrested following the cross-border operation which resulted on the raid on a property in Forkhill, south Armagh.

e The sentencing of Gavin Coyle to 10 years in jail after he admitted having guns and explosives with intent to endanger life. It followed the discovery in 2011 of a major haul which included assault rifles and Semtex high explosives.

"I thank the PSNI, MI5 and An Garda Siochana for their relentless and effective pursuit of the very small, but violent, minority who favour terrorism over democracy," she said.

Ms Villiers said the so-called New IRA continued to pose a significant threat but the work of the security forces was proving successful in constraining that threat.

She said Oglaigh na hEireann was "particularly active" towards the end of 2013.

Intelligence concluded the Continuity IRA "has continued to splinter into competing factions", she said.

"Several of these pose a localised threat to security forces, though many are more focused primarily on criminality than terrorism."

She added: "The PSNI and MI5 continue to devote all the resources required to tackle the threat and bring those responsible for these attacks to justice.

"We continue to contain the threat from terrorism and remain fully committed to driving it down in the future, keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure."

Former IRA hunger striker Gerard Hodgins said advances in surveillance on groups such as the New IRA, Continuity IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann has made guerrilla tactics "exceedingly difficult".

In an interview with The Guardian he said: "The widespread use of this technology gives the British almost permanent eyes and ears in places the dissidents would frequent."

CONVICTIONS, CHARGES AND ONGOING CASES

Possession of a rifle

Two men from Londonderry pleaded guilty this week to having a rifle linked to dissident republicans. The semi-automatic 597 Magnum rifle was discovered in the city in August 2011.

Twenty-six year-old Mark Anthony Patrick Kerr, from Carrabane Walk, also pleaded guilty to possessing a length of commercial detonating cord on the same occasion. Anthony Michael Taylor (44), from Bishop Street, was remanded back into custody.

Kerr was released on continuing bail.

CASE STATUS: Conviction, awaiting sentence.

Possession of firearm with intent

Two men from the Republic who were due to go on trial for the attempted murder of a student policeman pleaded guilty this week to having a firearm with intent to endanger life on November 21, 2009 in Garrison, Co Fermanagh.

Twenty-eight-year-old Gerard James McManus, from Fernhill, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and Kevin Barry Nolan (35), of Main Street, Blacklion, also admitted to possessing articles likely to be used in the preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. The charge of attempting to murder the PSNI officer will be left on the books.

CASE STATUS: Conviction, awaiting sentence.

Accused of making bombs

A young couple, Orla O'Hanlon (18) and her 19-year-old partner Keith McConnan, have appeared in court accused of making explosives for dissident republicans at their south Armagh home.

Prosecutors claimed an industrial-scale bread grinder discovered in the bungalow had been used to process large quantities of ammonium nitrate sugar for bombs.

A timer power unit found in an upstairs wardrobe could also have been planted and left for days and then activated by mobile phone, a judge was told.

The couple were arrested following police searches of their home on Tievcrom Road, Forkhill, last month.

Latex gloves and £1,000 in cash were also seized in the operation, the court heard.

CASE STATUS: Date to be set for trial.

Terrorism charges in Scotland

Five people with alleged links to dissident republicanism appeared in court in Scotland charged under the Terrorism Act last year. It is understood they are alleged to have been part of a plot to murder loyalist Johnny Adair.

Anton Duffy (39), Martin Hughes (34) and Stacy McAllister (27), from Glasgow, along with Paul Sands (30), from Ayr, and Edward McVeigh (26), from Portpatrick, were arrested on October 23 in an operation involving Scottish police, the PSNI and the security services.

They were charged under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act and all except McVeigh also face a charge of conspiracy to murder. A sixth person, John Gorman (56), from Irvine, appeared at the same court the previous week charged under the Terrorism Act and with conspiracy to murder.

CASE STATUS: Ongoing.

Possession of weapons and explosives

Gavin Coyle (36), from Omagh, who admitted possessing a large cache of guns and explosives, was sentenced to 10 years this month. He was arrested in 2011 when detectives investigating the murder of policeman Ronan Kerr discovered the arms dump in a garage in Coalisland.

Items seized included Semtex explosive; four AK47 assault rifles; ammunition and magazines; a booster for an RPG rocket; three bomb timer units; a number of electronic incendiary devices; components of an improvised PRIG grenade, explosive powder and detonating cord. Last year, Coyle, from Culmore Park, admitted possession of explosives and firearms with intent to endanger life and membership of a proscribed organisation.

CASE STATUS: Conviction.

Found with a loaded gun in their car

Four men caught with a loaded gun in their car in Omagh in 2010 were given jail terms this month. Mark McGuigan, of Sperrin View, Omagh, was sentenced to 12 years; Daniel John Turnbull, of Strule Park, Omagh, to nine years; Martin McLoone (left), of Abercorn Road in Londonderry, to eight years, and Darryn Patrick McCallion, of Rathlin Drive, Derry, to seven years.

The following day police carried out a search and found a Renault Clio car belonging to Turnbull. Inside, officers found a sub-machine-gun and magazine along with 42 .22 calibre cartridges.

Police also uncovered three sets of ballistic body armour, latex gloves, ear defenders and combat clothing during the 2010 operation.

CASE STATUS: Conviction.

Providing a phone for Real IRA killers

Marian McGlinchey received a one-year jail term suspended for three years for providing a mobile phone used to claim responsibility for the Real IRA murders of two soldiers at Massereene Barracks in Antrim in 2009.

The 59-year-old, from Stockman's Avenue in Belfast, also admitted aiding a Real IRA Easter commemoration in 2011 by holding a statement for a masked man in a Londonderry cemetery. The judge handed out a suspended sentence after ruling there was a low risk of her reoffending.

CASE STATUS: Conviction.

Accused of conspiracy to murder

Colin Duffy was charged with conspiracy to murder and IRA membership after a convoy of police vehicles was fired on from Ardoyne as it travelled up Belfast's Crumlin Road on December 5. Duffy, from Forest Glade, Lurgan, Co Armagh, was also charged with conspiring with the other defendants, Alex McCrory (52) and Henry Fitzsimons (46), to possess firearms and explosives with intent to endanger life or cause serious damage to property since the start of this year. Only one of four charges, alleged membership of the IRA, was read aloud in court.

CASE STATUS: Ongoing.

Biggest-ever dissident arms haul seized

A massive haul of weapons recovered near Dublin Airport last year was the biggest-ever seizure of dissident republican arms and explosives, gardai said.

Up to 15kg of Semtex was seized – sufficient to make 180 bombs. The Garda said that just 80g of the substance was used in a bomb that killed PSNI officer Ronan Kerr in April 2011. The haul also included an Uzi sub-machine-gun, 10 revolvers and pistols, imitation guns and three shotguns.

CASE STATUS: Ongoing.

Possession of firearm with intent

A 70-year-old man was jailed for six-and-a-half years last June after police found explosives and guns in his car following a high-speed chase. Thomas Maguire, who was jailed for 20 years in 1975 for having explosives with intent to endanger life, was caught with the items on August 2, 2011. Officers uncovered a coffee jar bomb, component parts for other bombs and a variety of guns, 100 rounds of assorted bullets and suspected shotgun propellant.

CASE STATUS: Conviction.

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