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Real IRA chief's brother arrested in firearms sting

The brother of a Real IRA leader was dramatically arrested in a police "sting" operation yesterday as he allegedly attempted to buy arms in Lithuania.

A lengthy operation involving gardai, international security agencies and local police led to the arrest of Michael Campbell in Vilnius.

Campbell (35) from Upper Faughart, Dundalk, Co Louth, was detained with a woman as he allegedly tried to negotiate a deal with a police agent posing as an international arms dealer.

The arms were said by police to have been destined for the breakaway Real IRA faction, led by Campbell's brother, Liam, who has twice been jailed in Portlaoise for membership of an illegal organisation.

The splinter group has a couple of dozen members and is slightly smaller than the original Real IRA group, that was under the control of Michael McKevitt, currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in Portlaoise.

Its Derry members are thought by police to have been involved in the attempted murder of a PSNI officer last November.

Off-duty officer Jim Doherty, who had joined the force less than two years ago, sustained multiple shotgun wounds during the attack.

According to intelligence sources, the Liam Campbell faction has strongholds in Louth-south Armagh, Derry and Cork but is known to be in need of money and weapons.

Deal

It is believed that Michael Campbell was under surveillance as he travelled to Vilnius and was then put in contact with the bogus dealer.

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As part of the negotiations, he was shown an array of firearms by the police agent.

But officers moved in yesterday and detained the Dundalk man before the alleged deal could be completed.

Four years ago, Michael Campbell was at the centre of an alleged Real IRA cigarette smuggling racket worth millions of euro.

He was arrested when the international cigarette smuggling ring was uncovered after warehouses in the Netherlands and Ireland were raided.

Most of the cigarettes destined for the black market in the Republic and the North were labelled Super Kings but the cartons and boxes later turned out to be imitations of that brand.

Campbell was found guilty by a Dutch court of defrauding the exchequer of €327,000 in excise duty and was sentenced to four months in prison.

His lawyer claimed that the link between the smuggling and the terror group was "exaggerated" and that Michael Campbell denied any involvement with the Real IRA.

Following his arrest in Vilnius yesterday, gardai carried out a number of searches last night in the Dundalk area and along the Border.


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