Belfast Telegraph

Missed clues claim sparks call for new Omagh bomb inquiry

By Paul Peachey

The British and Irish governments will face demands this week for a new inquiry into their police and intelligence agencies after unpublished e-mails from an FBI spy raised fresh questions about what the authorities could have done to prevent the 1998 Omagh bombing.

A report, commissioned by families of some of the 29 victims, claims that the bombing could have been prevented if three crucial strands of evidence had been linked, leading to increased security that could have disrupted the bombers' plans.

The families are expected to renew their calls for a cross-border public inquiry, a year after their report was delivered to the two governments as part of their campaign to learn the full story behind the Real IRA attack.

The report is thought to draw on hundreds of pages of e-mails between David Rupert – an American trucker-turned-informant who infiltrated republican paramilitaries – and his MI5 handler. It is understood the e-mails provide detail on potential planning, locations and personnel for an attack in the run-up to the blast on August 15, 1998, when a stolen Vauxhall car was packed with 500lb of explosives and detonated in the town centre.

The families say those details were not shared with police on either side of the border before the attack or during the investigation to find out who was responsible.

The report is understood to claim:

* A senior Irish police officer failed to pass to his counterparts in Northern Ireland information that dissident republicans were trying to obtain a vehicle for a bombing, a claim previously rejected by the Irish government.

* Evidence to back claims – denied by the authorities – that the bombers' car may have been tracked in the run-up to the attack, with the help of the FBI.

* Three pieces of evidence, from an anonymous tip-off and two informants, could have prevented the bombing if they had been brought together in time.

* The Rupert e-mails provided MI5 with material that was not passed swiftly to police investigating who was responsible.

Copies of the e-mails were obtained by the families, and sections were used in a civil case which saw them win £1.6m in 2009 against four men found liable for the murders. Nobody has been convicted for the attack.

The families say the evidence in their report goes beyond what was revealed in two Panorama programmes, which included claims that on the day, GCHQ was monitoring a phone number being used by the bombers.

Following those claims, a report by Sir Robert Gibson concluded the attack could not have been prevented. It was one of a number of inquiries.

The families say their inquiry raises questions that can be answered only by a full, cross-border inquiry.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the bombing, said: "It was obvious from the e-mails that early in 1998 they had a handle on these people. They had identified the key players, they had telephone numbers. And they had sources quite close, if not at the top of, this organisation. So when it came to the point of the Omagh bomb, the knowledge they had was very extensive."

FACTFILE

The Omagh victims' families believe David Rupert's e-mails – along with warnings of a dissident operation from a British agent and an anonymous tip-off 11 days before the attack naming three men – should have prompted a security operation that could have prevented the bomb attack.

The families' report is believed to have brought together an examination of a series of reports, witness statements and interviews with key figures involved in the investigation. They are due to give details of their findings at a press conference in Omagh on Thursday, a week before the 15th anniversary of the attack in the market town.

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