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Inside MI5: Gang who plotted to kill police may be monitored after their release from jail

Exclusive: Day three of our look inside the security services

By Deborah McAleese

Published 10/08/2016

Terence Aiden Coney was jailed in September 2014 on terrorist charges
Terence Aiden Coney was jailed in September 2014 on terrorist charges
Gavin Coney was jailed in September 2014 on terrorist charges
Sean Kelly was jailed in September 2014 on terrorist charges
Sharon Rafferty was jailed in September 2014 on terrorist charges

The security services are preparing for the release of members of a deadly dissident gang who were jailed over a terrorist training camp in Co Tyrone.

There are concerns that upon their release gang members - who plotted and trained to murder police officers - could be set to take up violence again.

The dissidents were arrested at a terrorist training camp in Omagh in 2012 following an MI5 sting operation.

As part of a Belfast Telegraph series into the work of the security services in Northern Ireland, we reveal details of one of MI5's biggest successes in recent years.

After a year long covert security operation, they smashed the terror gang and thwarted their plans to murder police and a prison governor.

However, due to time on remand awaiting trial, some members will soon be eligible for release. MI5 and the PSNI will now consider whether they need to monitor the risk upon release.

Sean Kelly of Toombridge, Sharon Rafferty of Pomeroy and Omagh brothers Gavin Joseph Coney and Terence Aiden Coney were jailed in September 2014 after they admitted a series of terrorist charges. They had been under MI5 surveillance for several months before and were eventually arrested on March 30, 2012, when police found them at a terrorist training camp in Formil Forest in Omagh.

Kelly was on licence after being released from jail under the Good Friday Agreement.

The camp was a makeshift firing range. Approximately 200 rounds had been fired at balloons and tins.

The group was dismantled after a painstaking MI5 operation. The four were secretly monitored for several months before enough evidence was gathered to bug their conversations. Secret recordings between Kelly and Rafferty heard them discuss a potential attack on police officers near a car park in Toomebridge, targeting Catholic police officers and the publicity surrounding killing people.

Kelly was also recorded talking about the name and address of a prison governor and how to handle an AK47. Conversations were recorded over a six month period from 2011 to April 2012.

This was a "significant" operation for MI5, because of "what they were planning and the individuals involved", a security source said. "They were planning something significant and some really good evidence was compiled," the source added.

In September 2014, after the four pleaded guilty to a number of terrorist related charges, Kelly was jailed for five years with five on licence, Rafferty for four years and four on licence, while the Coney brothers were jailed for five years and nine months.

Due to time on remand from their initial arrest in April 2012 they will be due for release soon.

It is understood that the security services are to consider if individual members pose a significant threat to life and need to be monitored.

They are still viewed as dangerous individuals by security services. "The convictions speak for themselves," a source said.

When any convicted terrorist is released from jail MI5 need to make decisions about what is proportionate in terms of monitoring them. "It's not as simple as people serving their time and then it's just all forgotten about," a security source said.

"It comes as no surprise when we see people coming out the other side (of jail) and re-engaging with violent extremism," he added.

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