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Palestinian doctor refused bail after claim he was caught in 'dirty squabble' between MI5 and republicans


Dr Issam Bassalat

Dr Issam Bassalat

Dr Issam Bassalat

A doctor arrested as part of a joint PSNI and MI5 surveillance operation into alleged dissident republican activity has been refused bail.

A total of 10 people have now been charged as part of Operation Arbacia, a surveillance-led offensive targeting terrorist activities.

During a bail application it emerged two of those charged introduced themselves as the IRA Army Council.

The defence however contend the doctor was caught in “the dirty squabble of war between MI5 and Irish republicans”.

Issam Bassalat (62) of Telford Road, Edinburgh is charged with intending to commit acts of terrorism or assisting another to commit such acts by attending and addressing an IRA meeting in Omagh on July 19.

The charges relate to alleged meetings at houses in Omagh between February and July.

Two of those charged are said to be part of the IRA Executive having introduced themselves by their “titles” during recorded discussions.

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David Jordan was the "self-professed Chair of the IRA Army Council and Kevin Barry Murphy, the self-professed Chief of Staff.”

During a bail application at Dungannon Magistrates Court sitting in Omagh, it was disclosed Bassalat is currently in hospital after having surgery.

Opposing bail, the prosecution said while Bassalat (62) was not at the first meeting, his name was mentioned during discussions around resources for the IRA and “a lot of time in Palestine training for Syria".

There were also comments around Bassalat being instrumental to contacts in Beirut.

A meeting in Edinburgh with Jordan referred to “our little project” and “we’re going to have to start the whole ball rolling again after this lockdown”.

The prosecution said “discussions were not just political matters but also violence. To suggest the defendant was there by accident is extraordinary. He also held travel documents of rather sinister context relating to the Middle East".

In addition, Bassalat has “so far refused to provide the PIN for his mobiles phones".

Countering this however, the defence said his client is “a man of good character and never in trouble before”.

He said over 30 character references have been provided including a senior lecturer who described Bassalat as an advocate for non-violent support for Palestinian human rights.

A retired GP and pediatrician who has known Bassalat since the bombing of Gaza in 2014, said he does not promote violence or armed insurrection, however following his divorce had become, “vulnerable to being misled”.

District Judge Michael Ranagahn noted Bassalat admitted being present at one meeting to which the defence responded: “He accepted being brought to a meeting by an agent provocateur who pestered him. He didn’t want to go to. He is a doctor, professional and humanitarian who took the Hippocratic Oath. He was caught up in the dirty squabble of war between MI5 and Irish republicans. These charges are an affront to freedom of speech.”

He had to go to Belfast to renew a passport for one of his children and claims to have been approached by McFadden who said while there he should speak at a public meeting.

Bassalat felt “pestered” and pointed out he would have his children with him. He met McFadden at his home and the children remained there with his wife.

McFadden then took Bassalat to the meeting in Tyrone where he, “discussed Palestinian history and Irish similarities. He talks about the Black and Tans.”

The defence continued: “My client speaks to numerous groups on Palestine. He went to the Saoradh Ard Fheis, he was certainly misled. Refusing bail drives a coach and horses through the presumption of innocence. There are issues of entrapment. Hopefully the prosecution sees sense and drops these charges.”

Judge Ranaghan took some time to consider the application but ruled, “the nature of the alleged offending and taking note of the prevalence of terrorist offences in Northern Ireland and worldwide, and the nature of those who commit such acts leads me to find a real risk of further offending.”

Along with Jordan and Murphy, the nine others accused are Damien Joseph McLaughlin and Jordan’s wife Sharon from Dungannon, Amanda McCabe and Shea McReynolds from Lurgan, Joseph Patrick Barr and Patrick John McDaid and Gary Hayden from Londonderry.

They face varying offences including belonging to the IRA, directing terrorism and preparing terrorist acts.

McLaughlin and McReynolds are also accused of conspiring to possess Semtex and 100 rounds of ammunition.

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