Ombudsman to probe claims of warning for Omagh bomb attack

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Allegations that security forces were warned of an imminent bomb attack three days before the Real IRA atrocity at Omagh are to be investigated by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.

The intervention by the ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, was justified on grounds that there was a public interest in investigating the claims, which are strongly denied by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The warning is said to have been given by an RUC double agent using the name Kevin Fulton, who had information that a well known dissident republican terrorist was making a large bomb.

Details of the allegations first emerged in an Irish Sunday newspaper and are said to have "intrigued" Ms O'Loan, who has wide-ranging powers to obtain evidence from the RUC.

The investigation will be formally announced today, two days after the anniversary of the bombing that killed 29 people on 15 August 1998. It will centre on claims from Mr Fulton that he was told by a senior member of Real IRA that "something big" was planned and there were clear signs his contact was making a bomb.

He claims he gave the terrorist's name and car registration number to his RUC handler, who wrote an intelligence report to be seen at senior levels in the force, the army and MI5. His warnings did not specifically mention Omagh, but last night he was quoted as saying they were enough to give the RUC "48 hours' head start".

A statement from the ombudsman's office said Mrs O'Loan was investigating if a prior warning was given and if information received was appropriately dealt with. It said the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, and the RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan had been informed.

An RUC spokesman said: "The Chief Constable has discussed the matter with the ombudsman and welcomes her examination of the issue."

Three men arrested in Colombia on suspicion of training the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia earlier this week have denied links to the IRA, claiming they were in the area as tourists. Colombian police have five days to decide whether to prosecute.

The incident has the potential to harm Sinn Fein's support among Irish Americans and yesterday the Washington Post, angry the men had been identified as IRA explosives experts, made a strongly worded attack on Gerry Adams and said republicans were to blame for the crisis in the peace process.