Trial told of 'plot by Real IRA chief' to kidnap peers

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The alleged leader of the Real IRA, Michael McKevitt, said he had wanted to kidnap four British lords and their sons and put them on a forced hunger strike, a court in Dublin heard yesterday.

An FBI double agent told the court that Mr McKevitt also said he was central to bringing boatloads of guns to the IRA from the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, in the 1980s.

The Special Criminal Court is hearing evidence from David Rupert, an American who worked at various times for the FBI, MI5 and the Dublin Special Branch. He is the main witness in the case against Mr McKevitt, of Dundalk, Co Louth, who is charged with being a member of the Real IRA and with directing terrorism. He is the first person charged under legislation introduced after the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Mr Rupert testified that he had been recruited first by the FBI and later by British intelligence after establishing relationships with republican dissidents in Co Donegal. He said a Londonderry republican had taken him to meet Mr McKevitt and others in August 1999, saying that "some higher-ups wanted to meet me". At the meeting, in a hotel, he and Mr McKevitt had "clicked right off" and for hours almost all the conversation had been between Mr McKevitt and himself. Mr Rupert said: "I have been in business a long time and when you meet the man in charge it's not difficult to tell."

He told the court they had discussed the Omagh bomb attack which killed 29 people. One of those present at the meeting said the Real IRA "had licked their wounds and hopefully gotten by Omagh". Mr Rupert added: "Obviously that was a black mark even to the hardest of hardcore republicans. We discussed the ramifications and the fund-raising problems it caused."

He alleged that Mr McKevitt "claimed 20 per cent responsibility" for the bombing, saying another organisation, the Continuity IRA, had picked the target and delivered the device.

Mr McKevitt was "horribly upset" that it had been left in Omagh, and also upset at the nature of what happened there, that at the place where the car was to be left there was no parking and it was parked elsewhere. According to Mr Rupert, Mr McKevitt said "the boys should have just driven it out in the country".

He said there was an agreement that the Real IRA and Continuity IRA would both claim the bomb, but in fact a republican figure had instead denounced the incident.

He said Mr McKevitt told him he had a squad working on cyber-terrorism and on telephone detonation of bombs.

He told the court that Mr McKevitt said he had difficulties with other republican dissidents because one leader had overruled his idea of kidnapping four British lords and their sons and placing them on forced hunger strikes.

Mr Rupert alleged that Mr McKevitt described a command structure which was first himself, then a man called Liam Campbell and then his wife, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt. Mrs Sands-McKevitt was in the public gallery of the court yesterday.

The trial continues.