Real IRA weapons smugglers jailed after MI5 sting
TWO men were jailed yesterday after a dissident republican gun- smuggling plot was uncovered by a British secret service sting operation.
Paul McCaugherty (44) of Lurgan, Co Armagh, was found guilty of attempting to import weapons and explosives and given 20 years. He sought the equipment for the Real IRA from an arms dealer who was a security services agent.
Dermot Declan Gregory (42) of Crossmaglen, was found guilty of making a Portuguese property available for the purpose of terrorism. He was sentenced to four years.
British Home Secretary Theresa May warned last month that the threat from dissident republicans was substantial and urged public vigilance.
Mr Justice Anthony Hart at Belfast Crown Court told McCaugherty: "Any attempt to purchase and import such a large amount of weapons and explosives for terrorist purposes must be regarded as exceptionally serious because of the potential for murder and destruction on a large scale."
The head of the UK's secret service MI5 said that dissident republicans could attempt to mount a new wave of terrorist attacks on Great Britain.
Jonathan Evans, the director-general of the security service, said there had been a "persistent rise" in "activity and ambition" by dissident groups in the North over the past three years.
As he was led away today, a shaven-headed McCaugherty raised one arm to friends and family in the heavily-guarded courtroom. He showed no emotion as he was sentenced.
The court heard he set out to purchase a substantial quantity of weapons and explosives in Europe. He was introduced to a person he knew as Ali who he believed was a genuine arms dealer but in reality was an MI5 agent.
McCaugherty agreed to purchase 100kg of plastic explosives, 28 AK assault rifles, 20 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 10 sniper rifles and two pistols.
During his negotiations with 'Ali' he handed over €45,970 in cash as part-payment for the proposed delivery.
The security services operation lasted from August 2004 to June 2006.
Mr Justice Hart said he was satisfied that at all times McCaugherty was acting as a senior and trusted member of the Real IRA.
The judge said: "McCaugherty's admissions to Ali reveal that he has been an active and energetic terrorist for a considerable period of time."