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Victims’ group demands full inquiry into Omagh bomb

New information shows that atrocity which claimed 29 lives could have been prevented

Families bereaved by the Omagh bombing have demanded a full public inquiry into the attack which killed 29 people in the Co Tyrone town in August 1998.

They announced they have compiled a report containing significant new information on the incident, suggesting serious security deficiencies both before and after the bombing, the worst attack of the Troubles.

They are supported in their campaign by Amnesty International and former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan. She said that – since she compiled a report on the bombing 12 years ago – significant new information, which she said was a cause for enormous concern, should be professionally investigated.

Omagh relatives group chairman Michael Gallagher said they had decided not to publish the report since they did not want to do anything to prejudice any future trial or compromise any of the techniques used by the intelligence services. Details of the report, first revealed by The Independent on Monday, included allegations of possible FBI involvement in tracking the bomb car, and cross-border friction between police forces.

Mr Gallagher read snatches of a memo filed by an FBI agent before the bombing in which Londonderry and Omagh were named as “suspected viable targets.” The agent also reported meeting a Real IRA figure who “was excited that something might be happening in the next few weeks.”

Families maintain that “an enormous amount” of intelligence had existed but had not been used properly. They believe that although the Real IRA had been targeted by the FBI, MI5 and police on both sides of the Irish border, intelligence had not been shared among the agencies.

They said the bombing could have been prevented by roadblocks placed around the town.

The group has obtained 4,000 emails written to an FBI handler by agent David Rupert, who successfully infiltrated the Real IRA, which carried out the bombing. Mr Rupert’s evidence led to the conviction of the organisation’s leader. Mr Gallagher said the material showed that Mr Rupert had sent an enormous amount of money and bomb components to the Real IRA from the US. He said: “My question is: how far away was this from state-sponsored terrorism?”

He criticised British and Irish ministers who were given the report more than a year ago. He said Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers had been very courteous towards them but “sadly at the end of that there was very little moving forward.”  He added that Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny had refused to meet them, and they “weren’t overly impressed” by justice minister Alan Shatter “who kept us waiting for an hour and a half.”

Stanley McCombe, whose wife died in the bombing, said that Ms Villiers and Mr Shatter “should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.”

With no substantive response from either government, Mr Gallagher said, the campaign group is to seek a judicial review in courts in Northern Ireland, and possibly also in Dublin.

According to Mr Gallagher: “We feel we have no choice but to go to court. The governments are closing their ears. They’re not listening to what we have to say.”

Bomb plot: Police failures

The families’ claims:

* The families of Omagh’s victims have claimed that had police and intelligence officials pulled together three strands of evidence from an anonymous tip-off and two more trusted informants they could have foiled the attack.

The families claimed that a build-up of security in Omagh would have deterred the attack.

A government-ordered review of what the intelligence agencies knew said that an attack could not have been foiled.

* A solicitor acting on behalf of one of the families said that he received an indication from senior police that the car used for the bombing may have been the target of tracking before it reached Omagh.

The authorities have always denied that the car had been watched in the run-up to the attack.

* A senior Irish police officer allegedly failed to pass information to his counterparts in Northern Ireland that suggested dissident republicans were trying to get a vehicle for the bombing. The report’s claim, understood to be based on interviews, previous reports and searches of police files, has been previously rejected by the Irish government.

* Emails provided by American trucker-turned-spy David Rupert provided material that pointed to a likely terrorist attack and potential targets but were not acted on, and not passed swiftly to police.

The families claim this information  could have resulted in the arrests and prosecutions of those behind the attacks.