The group apologised for causing the casualties, saying the large car- bomb had been aimed at a commercial target rather than at taking life.
The statement, telephoned to the Dublin office of a newspaper using a recognised codeword, said: "There were three warnings and there were 40 minutes' warning on each of them - two to UTV [Ulster Television] and one to the Samaritans in Coleraine. Each time this was made clear and people talked back.
"The location was 300 to 400 yards from the courthouse on the main street. At no time was it said it was near the courthouse. It was a commercial target. Despite media reports it was not our intention at any time to kill any civilians.
"It was a commercial target, part of an on-going war against the Brits. We offer apologies to the civilians."
Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, described it as a "pathetic attempt to apologise for and excuse mass murder". She said Real IRA members were "murderers, pure and simple" and people would have "absolute contempt" for their apology.
The Deputy First Minister of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, Seamus Mallon, said the statement was an attempt to excuse the inexcusable. People among the thousands attending a peace vigil in Omagh said they were insulted by the apology.
Oliver Gibson, a Democratic Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, whose niece Esther Gibson died in the explosion, said the organisation's claim insulted those those bereaved and injured. He said: "It is a sickening, stupid, childish statement. All it is doing is adding to the grief and bereavement and agony of the families who are trying to come to terms with their loss and those in hospital, maimed and trying to recover. It can only be treated with utter contempt."
The Real IRA's version of the warnings was rejected last night by both the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Downing Street, which, unusually, issued the precise wordings used. The first call to UTV, a local television station, gave no clear location and said: "There's a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, main street, 500lb, explosion 30 minutes." One minute later, a second call said: "Bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes." Only in the third call, to the Samaritans, did the caller say the bomb was on Main Street about 200 yards from the courthouse. No description of any vehicle was given.
The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern last night called on the three remaining dissident republican groups to declare their position on a ceasefire within the next 24 hours. He welcomed Monday's statement of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of the Irish National Liberation Army [INLA] that "armed struggle" could no longer be justified; he called on the INLA to end its campaign of violence.
Yesterday, the first of the funerals were held when Avril Monaghan, 30, who died while pregnant with twins, and her 18-month-old daughter, Maura, were buried in Augher, near Omagh. More funerals are due to be held today.
Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, asked newspapers to scale down their coverage to allow the community to grieve.Reuse content