IRA escapee extradited from US

A convicted terrorist and Maze jail escapee, Jimmy Smyth, was last night back in prison in Northern Ireland after being flown from the United States following a long extradition battle.

One of 38 inmates involved in the IRA mass escape from the Maze in 1983, Smyth, 42, was flown from the US to Heathrow airport, London, in an undercover operation where he was handed over to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He was then flown to Belfast and driven under tight security the 12 miles to Maghaberry jail.

His return marks the end of a long battle against extradition from the US where he was arrested in June 1992 on passport violations.

Smyth, from Belfast, was jailed in 1978 on a string of terrorist offences and was sentenced to 20 years for the attempted murder of an off-duty prison officer.

He was one of several of the Maze escapees smuggled to the US and later arrested. A federal court barred his extradition in 1994 but the decision was reversed on appeal.

Smyth then appealed to the US Supreme Court, but in June the court denied a review of his case.

His fight to stay in the US was effectively over in July when a federal judge in San Francisco signed an order authorising Smyth's extradition. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, then signed the necessary paper for his return to Britain.

Before leaving the US, Smyth issued a statement through the Irish American Unity Conference. "I leave this country full of thanks for the spirit and independence of the American people. Unfortunately the further up the political ladder we climbed, the less the voice of the people was heard.

"I am returning to a country I left unwillingly 12 years ago. There may be many who will seek revenge against me because I spoke the truth about Ireland."

Joe Austin, a Sinn Fein spokesman, said yesterday that the British government's pursuit of Smyth had been "vindictive".

He said he was disappointed and angry with the US administration for allowing Smyth's extradition "back to a judicial, legal and prison system which is clearly unjust and discriminatory".

Smyth would have been a free man now if he had served out his sentence at the Maze. Buthe will now have to serve the remaining 15 years of his 20-year sentence. The time spent in custody in the US fighting his case will not be taken into account.

Two other Maze escapees are fighting extradition from the US. And four of 19 escapees who were not captured soon after the break-out are thought to be eluding the biggest manhunt in British prison history.

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