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I twice sabotaged bomb effort and acted under duress, accused tells trial


Keith McConnan was arrested in 2013

Keith McConnan was arrested in 2013

Orla O’Hanlon was arrested in 2013

Orla O’Hanlon was arrested in 2013

Keith McConnan was arrested in 2013

A man accused of a string of terrorist offences including bomb-making has claimed he deliberately sabotaged efforts to make an explosive device.

Denying he was a terrorist or that he supported dissident republican activity, Keith McConnan (21) claimed he purchased an industrial grinder at the request of a man he called Mr X.

McConnan, who is originally from Kilcurry in Dundalk, said that when he realised it was to be used for making explosives and not laundering fuel - as he initially believed - he sabotaged two attempts to make a bomb because he did not want to be involved in anything that could kill.

Both McConnan and 20-year-old girlfriend Orla O'Hanlon were arrested in December 2013 after their Forkhill home was searched by police.

The couple are facing charges linked to the discovery in their rented bungalow of an industrial grinder, a "complete" timer power unit and a quantity of crushed ammonium nitrate fertiliser, which the Crown said had been "encountered in improvised explosive substances" in Northern Ireland in the past.

McConnan, from Tievecrom Road in Forkhill, and O'Hanlon, from Church Road in the village, both deny making and possessing explosives.

Giving evidence at his Diplock non-jury trial in Belfast Crown Court, the former Dundalk Grammar School pupil took to the witness stand and denied any involvement with dissident republican groups.

Instead, the one-time personal trainer made the case that he was acting under the instructions of a man he would name only as Mr X. He also claimed he was acting under duress, had been threatened by Mr X, and was in fear for his family's safety.

McConnan refused several times to name the man, who was later identified by the Crown as Dundalk man Oliver Traynor.

McConnan said Mr X, who at the time was a friend of his brother, offered him a job at the gym he ran in the town.

He told the court that in August 2013 a group of armed men called at his parents' home in Dundalk and threatened his brother, accusing him of being involved in the theft of cigarettes from a local smuggler. This threat, the accused claimed, left his mother "distraught".

McConnan said that the cigarettes were stolen from a yard linked to Mr X, leading him to contact the man he worked with to ask about the threat to his brother. The defendant said Mr X was "dismissive" and that he told him "don't worry, it will be okay", and that was the end of the issue.

Under questioning by his barrister, Barry MacDonald QC, McConnan confirmed that around the same time he was asked by Mr X to buy a grinder, which he suspected was to be used to facilitate fuel laundering.

The defendant said he agreed to buy the grinder because he was afraid his brother would be shot. After he purchased it, it was brought to a shed on Forkhill Road, where McConnan was allegedly handed a bin liner containing a substance and was told to "make sure everything worked". McConnan claimed that when he opened the bag he knew the substance was fertiliser and not something associated with fuel laundering.

He said: "When I realised it was explosives I panicked initially. I was very scared.

"This was material which could kill people.

"I felt completely sick - I didn't know what to do."

The defendant claimed he then worked out ways to prevent the grinder from working properly, including turning it upside-down and burning out the motor, before throwing away the substance that had been ground down.

McConnan later claimed he overloaded the grinder and made Mr X angry, after which his attitude towards him changed.

It was alleged that a second grinder was then purchased and brought to the bungalow by McConnan under the orders of Mr X, who instructed the defendant to test the machine to make sure that it worked.

McConnan said he was also given a "small box of fertiliser" by Mr X which was to be ground down. After being told to use the second grinder, he claimed to have come up with a plan to add pinhead oats to the mix to render it useless and non-explosive.

The defendant said he then called to Mr X's home with the ground substance in a bag, after which he was allegedly told to take it away with him.

The police arrived later that evening and both McConnan and O'Hanlon were arrested.

The trial continues.

Belfast Telegraph