Sunday 26 May 2019

How a key German mole nearly wrecked the INLA

Terror group was penetrated at the highest level by a secret agent. Ian Cobain and Allan Hall in Berlin investigate

THE procession of cars made its way through a council housing estate in Dundalk and turned into a narrow cul-de-sac. Their occupants, men in their thirties and forties, clambered out, strode up the driveway of a bungalow at the end of the street and went through the front door.

In a back room, these men dispensed with pleasantries and came straight to their deadly business: fine-tuning the strategy of the INLA.

The group included the chief-of-staff, Hugh 'Cueball' Torney (40), so called because his weapon during his days in Long Kesh had been a pool ball inside two socks; Gino Gallagher (33), the organisation's ruthless commander in Co Tyrone; and Peter Stewart, a veteran of many bloody INLA operations.

They also included a tall, quietly spoken man in his late thirties who was an unusual figure to find among such committed and dangerous republicans, not least because he was German.

The INLA's willingness to accept a German 'volunteer' into its ranks appears at first glance to be baffling, but is less so when its history, politics and international connections are considered.

Remarkable as it seems, this man was a senior and trusted comrade, having apparently made contact with Torney and Stewart several years earlier as a member of Revolutionary Cells, a leftwing German terror gang which had been running arms-smuggling routes and safe havens for the INLA for 20 years.

Had Cueball suspected the truth about his German friend, the man would have been destined for the same fate that had befallen dozens of traitors, both real and imagined, within the INLA's ranks. He would have been bound, gagged, severely beaten, and tortured with bolt-croppers before being shot in the face and his body dumped in a country lane near the border.

This man, whose identity is known to us, was an officer of the German intelligence service, the Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV), or Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The BfV is responsible for counter-espionage, secret anti-terrorist operations, and for surveillance of right or leftwing organisations considered to be a threat to the security of the state.

It had scored a number of successes over the years against the KGB and its East German allies, and against neo-Nazis and groups such as the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Few BfV enterprises had been quite so audacious, however, or potentially fruitful, as its operation to infiltrate the highest echelons of the INLA.

Details of that operation are laid bare in a series of classified reports from the BfV, the German federal criminal investigation department, the Bundeskriminalamt, and the federal prosecutor's office, the Generalbundesanwalt.

Among them is the agent's own statement about his time as an INLA volunteer, in which he explains the frustrations and dangers he faced, identifies 10 leading members of the INLA, and names the INLA man who was eventually ordered to murder him.

The Dundalk meeting, he explains, was held in July 1994, at a time when everyone in Ireland knew that the Provisional IRA was about to declare a ceasefire. The INLA, however, was determined to carry on the 'armed struggle'. It had no shortage of willing volunteers, was anticipating an influx of disaffected Provos, and held significant amounts of arms.

Furthermore, the INLA was not lacking in the technical expertise needed to make bombs. What it lacked was high-quality explosives.

"The aim was to stop the further transportation of weapons and explosives and to find out the routes used," the agent wrote. "To this purpose leading INLA members were to be enticed, under observation, to a procurement activity in BRD [Germany] and to be arrested, having been seen making purchases in the Czech Republic and storing the goods in Schwabisch Hall [a small town 40 miles north-east of Stuttgart].

"At the end of July 1994, a talk was held at the house of one of the old bosses of INLA, Peter Stewart. Stewart, INLA member Gary Adams and I were present at this meeting. It took place in Dundalk.

"Two days later, at Gary Adams's house, there was a meeting between the chief-of-staff of INLA, Hugh Torney; the area leader responsible for Tyrone, Gino Gallagher; and myself. As much Semtex as possible was to be bought in the Czech Republic, also detonators would be needed. Short and long weapons were of no interest."

The German agent offered to find a safe house for storage of the material, and was to be paid stg£50,000 plus $25,000, which was to be collected the next day in Dublin. "The next day the man who was supposed to hand over the dollars murdered another man outside a pub in Dublin," he wrote. "So the dollars had to be dispensed with."

After leaving his meeting in Dundalk, the agent returned to Germany on August 2, he wrote. The next day Torney arrived in Stuttgart with a junior INLA member, Sean Green, (30). Adams, meanwhile, remained in reserve in Amsterdam with two other INLA terrorists.

At this stage the operation began to unravel. For reasons that are unclear, the agent's superiors told him that no safe house would be made available.

"This was a critical situation for me as the INLA chief-of-staff was already with me and I could not keep my promise."

A week later the three men travelled to the Czech Republic, where they met a terrorist identified only as Murphy.

In Pilsen they also met a "representative" of Omnipol, the company that makes Semtex. The manufacture of the plastic explosive had been halted by the Czech Government in 1990, but was resumed the following year after a system for tagging supplies received international approval.

The agent's report makes clear, however, that illicit supplies were available for terrorists willing to pay.

With no safe house available, Murphy decided to transport the Semtex back to Ireland himself, according to the agent's report.

It is unclear from the classified reports whether he succeeded in reaching Ireland with his haul. The BfV believed that there was a strong case against Torney and Green but, with no powers of arrest, it decided to alert the German police.

A Stuttgart police report describes how the two men were arrested at the city's railway station at 3.26pm on August 10. They were carrying around stg£10,000 in various currencies "money left over from an explosives procurement activity" and in their rucksacks were single-use overalls, plastic gloves, bin bags and sealing tape.

"Objects such as these," the report's author notes, "are not usually carried by a tourist."

As a result of Murphy's decision to transport the Semtex back himself, however, no explosives were found, and the two men refused to say anything during questioning. Senior officers decided that the evidence of the BfV agent was insufficient to bring charges and complained that they had no evidence that justified detaining the two men.

"Both men were known as members of the INLA, but there was no warrant for their arrest," the police report says. Torney and Green were released the next day and escorted to a railway station where they got a train to Paris.

The BfV officers involved in the operation were said to be furious. One said: "You could see that the police regarded these two as trouble, and just wanted them out of Stuttgart and out of the country. They couldn't conceal their relief when the train pulled out of the station."

The agent who had risked his life wrote in his account: "Although the police authorities were handed a leading member of the INLA on a plate, they failed dismally. Later I was warned that INLA member Michael Weldon had been given the job of liquidating all those responsible for betraying Torney and Green in Stuttgart."

The agent's report concludes by noting that two years later Torney murdered Gino Gallagher in one of the many vicious feuds that have repeatedly ripped the INLA apart over the last 26 years. Another INLA member, Dessie McCleery, was killed during the same bloodletting, and "Torney is looking for McCleery's German girlfriend, Steffi Schulz, who is also to be killed."

In November, 1994 the agent was invited to London to meet MI5 officers, who asked him to take part in a similar operation, "but because of my previous experience I turned them down ... "

The agent has since assumed a new identity and left Germany. The IRA did announce a ceasefire, on August 31, but 18 months later it was abandoned with the Docklands Bomb.

Commanders of the INLA, however, were warned by a Sinn Fein leader that death awaited them if they broke ranks and continued hostilities.

Sean Green was jailed for five years in 1999 for his part in a letter-bomb campaign that targeted, among others, Unionist leaders David Trimble and Jeffrey Donaldson. He served just six weeks before being freed under the early release programme. Gary Adams was jailed for 12 months for intimidation.

Michael Weldon was last heard of in Amsterdam, where he was in hiding with another INLA man named in the German agent's report, Thomas "The Zombie" Savage. The Zombie was alleged to carry out contract killings across Ireland for as little as £500 a time, before turning his hand to drug smuggling, and is wanted for questioning about several murders on both sides of the border.

Peter Stewart died of cancer, and Torney is also dead, another victim of internal INLA feuding. He was gunned down in September 1996 in a drive-by shooting mounted in Lurgan by Gino Gallagher's friends. Before he died, however, Torney was able to maim and kill several people who would probably still be alive today had he been prosecuted and jailed in Germany.

Among the victims of the INLA feud was Barbara McAlorum, aged 9, in March 1996, who died as she played in front of her parents in their living room when their North Belfast home was sprayed with bullets. It was, INLA sources later conceded , a "mistaken" attack.

(The Times, London)

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss