Gun-running suspect tells of IRA links

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the three suspects arrested in Florida on charges of illegally smuggling guns and ammunition to Ireland has claimed he was working for the IRA, and that his mission was replenish its arsenal of weapons for a new campaign of violence against British authorities.

Details of the statement by Conor Claxton, 26, were described yesterday by prosecutors at a detention hearing in the Fort Lauderdale Federal Courthouse for Mr Claxton and the other two defendants arrested here on Monday - Siobhan Browne, 34, and Anthony Smyth, 42.

It was not clear yesterday whether Mr Claxton claimed that he was working for the mainstream IRA or for a splinter group, such as the Real IRA. However, the implication from the prosecutor's presentation seemed to be that Mr Claxton claimed allegiance to the IRA itself.

If that is true, it could have grave consequences for the already ailing peace process.

In coordination with Scotland Yard, the FBI's joint terrorist task force arrested all three defendants on Monday. They are accused of purchasing at least 50 guns in South Florida in recent weeks and placing orders for 35 more.

They allegedly posted the weapons to Ireland. Three people accused of being in receipt of some of the guns were also arrested in the Republic of Ireland, near Galway, on Tuesday. One was later released.

Richard Scruggs, for the prosecution, told the court that Mr Claxton, on his arrest, stated that working for the IRA was "his job". "He stated quite candidly that the weapons were to be used against British troops, against the Royal Ulster Constabulary and against Protestant paramilitary groups", Mr Scruggs said.

Prosecutors, who were arguing for the defendants to remain in custody, said they expected the number of weapons involved to be "significantly higher" than 50.

Mr Claxton, who is being portrayed as the main instigator of the plot, was allegedly caught on video film posting some of the packages.

Investigators got on the trail of the arms ring when British police intercepted some of the parcels as they came through West Midlands airport en route to Ireland. Scotland Yard then alerted the Florida authorities.

The lawyer representing Mr Claxton, Abe Bailey, said he had not yet asked his client to clarify who he was working for and if it was the IRA itself.