Omagh 'killers' hold talks with CIRA over new bombing campaign
Real IRA warlords found guilty by a civil court of being liable for the Omagh bomb are being wooed by a border-based dissident gang intent on a new campaign of slaughter.
Sunday Life understands Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly have held meetings with the Continuity IRA, which was behind recent attempts to kill cops in booby-trap explosions in Fermanagh and Lurgan.
A civil action taken by relatives of the 29 innocents killed in the 1998 Omagh bomb found both men liable for the massacre and ordered them to pay £1.5m in damages. However, criminal cases against them were unsuccessful.
Until two years ago Murphy and Daly were senior figures in the ONH (Oglaigh na hEireann) dissident republican faction, which was an offshoot of the Real IRA.
Before calling a ceasefire in January 2017, the gang was behind car bomb attacks at several high-profile targets including the Policing Board's Belfast HQ and Palace Barracks, the home of MI5 in Northern Ireland.
Since then Murphy and Daly have not been aligned with any paramilitary group - but they are now being wooed by the Continuity IRA.
The pair have held discussions with the gang's leader John Joe 'JJ' McCusker, whose men were behind the recent failed booby-trap attack on cops in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh. This was the fifth attempt this year by dissidents to murder police.
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Security sources believe hardline republican McCusker wants to use Murphy and Daly's explosives expertise to mount a fresh border bombing campaign to coincide with Brexit uncertainty.
"McCusker has reached out to the both of them," an insider explained. "Murphy and Daly would have serious bomb-making capabilities, much more than the Continuity IRA has at present.
"McCusker has also been speaking to ex-Provos from east Tyrone. He's not expecting them to join the Contos, he just wants their assistance in training and in making bombs."
At the 2003 trial of Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt, who was sentenced to 20 years for directing terrorism, JJ McCusker was named as second-in-command of the Continuity IRA.
Five years later charges against him of bombing Lurgan golf club and trying to cause an explosion at Rosslea PSNI station were dropped because of the prosecution use of the controversial low-copy DNA techniques.
McCusker, who lives in Newtownbutler, now leads the Continuity IRA following an internal restructuring.
Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly, the dissidents he is trying to charm, are considered two of the most violent paramilitaries on the island of Ireland.
Murphy has convictions for possessing firearms, IRA membership and trying to ship machine-guns from America to Ireland for the INLA.
The 67-year-old businessman from Belleeks in Co Armagh has previously gone public to deny being involved in the 1976 IRA Kingsmill massacre of 10 Protestant workmen despite his palm print being found on a van linked to the killers.
His friend Seamus Daly's paramilitary CV is equally as appalling.
A builder by trade from Castleblaney in Co Monaghan, he served a three-and-a-half year prison term for membership of the Real IRA.
Like Murphy the 48-year-old faced criminal charges over the Omagh bomb, however the case against him collapsed.
While Continuity IRA chief JJ McCukser is seeking their help in remodelling his gang, he has also gone on a major recruitment drive in the Lurgan, east Tyrone and south Derry areas.
This has not gone unnoticed by anti-terror cops, with one saying: "You can see this recruitment drive borne out in the ages of those being arrested in connection with dissident republican activity.
"The majority of them are all aged in their 20s and 30s, with some being born after the 1994 ceasefires. It's very worrying."
Meanwhile, police chiefs are becoming increasingly concerned that dissidents are considering murdering a loyalist in a bid to draw the UVF and UDA into a tit-for-tat sectarian killing feud that would bring chaos to Northern Ireland.
Paramilitary groups from both sides of the divide have, for more than a decade, operated a no first-strike policy.
But fears are growing that the New IRA and Continuity IRA are considering shattering that by targeting a loyalist.
That would draw an immediate response from the UDA and an increasingly unstable UVF.
The latter indicated in a recent private meeting with government officials that had the New IRA bomb attack in east Belfast in June on a senior police officer been successful, it would have killed nationalists in retaliation.
"Killing a loyalist is something that dissidents have discussed, it's been a topic of conversation for sure," said a security insider.
"They know that it would bring chaos to the streets, something they would love.
"The only thing holding them back is the negative reaction this would create within their own communities if loyalists retaliated by killing innocent Catholics."
With the security situation becoming increasingly unstable, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has warned that dissident republicans are determined to kill one of his officers.
He also said the lack of a local Assembly is "unhelpful", describing this as a "really dangerous situation to be in".