Provisionals buy supergun from Russia
Published 21/04/2002 | 00:11
Deal detected by Moscow security services and passed to British spy chiefs, says David Bamber
THE IRA has been secretly rearming while pretending to be decommissioning.
In a flagrant breach of the Good Friday Agreement, senior IRA commanders bought a consignment of powerful new Russian special forces assault rifles in Moscow late last year.
They bought at least 20 AN-94s, which can fire 1,800 bullets a minute and pierce body armour. The weapon can be used as a traditional machinegun or in sniper mode as a high-velocity rifle for assassinations.
The deal was detected by the Russian security services, which passed details to British military intelligence in London. Cabinet ministers were briefed on it, along with senior Northern Ireland politicians.
Details remained secret, however, until being disclosed to the Sunday Telegraph by military intelligence officers in London last week.
Coming days after the discovery of an updated IRA "hit list" containing the addresses of leading Conservative MPs, this will fuel fears that the IRA is preparing for a resumption of violence and will further threaten the political process.
Quentin Davies, the Conservative Party's Northern Ireland spokesman, said: "The Good Friday Agreement is a sham if the IRA are handing in weapons with one hand and buying them again with the other.
"This, coupled with the list targeting politicians, the Colombia affair and the killings that continue in Northern Ireland, means that Sinn Fein/IRA must now be called to account."
Critics said it was further evidence of the IRA continuing to build up a huge arsenal, despite twice handing over a small quantity of largely antiquated arms to General John de Chastelain's decommissioning body. Last summer, three IRA men were held in Colombia after trying to construct a new type of mortar bomb.
Despite this, Dr John Reid, the Northern Ireland Secretary in the UK, said two weeks ago that he was delighted at the latest IRA act of decommissioning. "This is very welcome news which shows IRA decommissioning was not an isolated event."
Military intelligence officers told the Sunday Telegraph that a senior IRA team was dispatched to Moscow last autumn to buy the weapons from a renegade group of Russian special forces officers. One said that the weapons have been bought so that the IRA could "continue to be a well-oiled machine".
Siobhan Browne, who was jailed for buying guns for the IRA in Florida in 1998, said last year that the terrorists were "gearing up for a bloodbath, an ethnic cleansing". She described the Good Friday Agreement as a "sham" and said that "the IRA will never give up their guns".
The IRA files targeting Tory MPs were found by detectives raiding the houses of former IRA prisoners in Belfast and Derry in search of documents stolen from the Special Branch offices at Castlereagh.
Dr Reid said: "There is no indication the IRA is either about to or intending to recommence its campaign. But clearly there is a long way to go for all paramilitary groups to cease all their activities."
Meanwhile, David Trimble will meet senior police officers in Belfast tomorrow to get more information about seized IRA intelligence files which detailed the movements of senior members of the Conservative Party.
Confirmation byJohn Reid that documents were seized from an IRA intelligence cell in Belfast has alarmed unionists.