McKevitt had hoped to forge Tamil ties, FBI agent tells court

The reputed leader of the real IRA, Michael McKevitt, tried to develop links with the Iraqis and the Tamil Tigers, his trial in Dublin was told yesterday. According to a witness statement, Mr McKevitt, who had also hoped to obtain state sponsorship for his organisation, sent representatives to a human rights convention in Geneva hoping to make contacts but was disappointed when they "came home empty-handed."

The evidence was given by David Rupert, an agent for the FBI and MI5. He said a British investigation was launched after he reported Mr McKevitt discussing Iraq.

Mr Rupert was giving evidence for the fourth day against Mr McKevitt, who is charged with being a member of the Real IRA and with directing terrorism. He is the first person to be charged under legislation introduced after the Omagh bomb attack in 1998, when 29 people died.

Mr Rupert said he had preferred to work as an undercover intelligence agent reporting on Mr McKevitt and other republicans, having originally turned down an FBI request to give evidence against him in open court. He said there would be a danger of being shot, adding: "I ranked testifying just below hitting my head with a sledgehammer. It was going to severely alter the rest of our lives."

Mr Rupert said he changed his mind after chancing to watch a television documentary on Omagh and seeing a young woman who was blinded and a boy who had lost his shoulder bones.

The court also heard details of a contract Mr Rupert had signed with the FBI giving him a total of $19,000 a month. Mr Rupert said under cross- examination that he had been involved in three bankruptcies. He also said he had left many creditors in the small town where he had lived, adding: "When you file for bankruptcy you are released from a legal obligation to pay."

Mr Rupert also admitted to having used both a Rolls-Royce and a De Lorean car but told counsel he had never heard the saying about De Lorean - "built by a crook, driven by a crook".

Mr Rupert, who has been described as central to the prosecution, agreed that 1974 was a bad year for him. Counsel said: "Your well-insured house burnt down," and he agreed he had faced bankruptcy and was charged with issuing two bad cheques.

The trial continues.

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