Irish Republican News · April 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Omagh scandal deepens

British MI5 military intelligence withheld vital information on the 1998 Omagh attack by the Real IRA, it has been revealed.

The British secret service agency received a tip-off that hardline republicans were targeting the town centre of Omagh in a major attack.

However, the information was never acted upon and remained secret even after the Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people in August 1998. Telephoned warnings failed to clear the area in the vicinity of the bomb, and the resulting tragedy provoked an outcry which severely damaged the breakaway ‘Real IRA’.

MI5 had previously used a similar tip-off to successfully prevent an attack by dissidents at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.

Relatives of some of the Omagh dead said they were astonished by the disclosure.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was among those killed, said: “At best, this is criminal negligence. At worst it’s assisting a terrorist murder plot.”

The latest revelation, he said, made the argument for the London and Dublin governments to set up a full cross-border independent inquiry all the more compelling.

“MI5 is considered one of the top intelligence agencies in the world and had their finger very much on the pulse, yet they failed to notify the RUC that Omagh was a chosen target of a very active terrorist group,” he said.

Mr Gallagher, who met Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street last month, added: “There must be a cross-border public inquiry to establish a truthful account of all events surrounding Omagh.

“It must be thorough, comprehensive and impartial to find out exactly what happened and who should be held responsible for any failings. It is only then that the families can begin to heal.”

The two main opposition parties in the 26 Counties have called for a cross-border inquiry into the Omagh bombing following the revelation.

The Labour Party and Fine Gael said it was time to listen to the bombing victims’ relatives.

Labour justice spokesman, Joe Costello, said: “Today’s revelations merely underline the legitimacy of their calls for a full, independent cross-border inquiry.”

He said the way MI5 had handled the information suggested that people could have little confidence in the agency’s ability to prevent major atrocities.

“Of course, this does not shift the blame away from those cowards who planted the bomb that caused the deaths of 29 people.

“But it does ask questions about how intelligence was used and whether or not many of those lives could have been saved had information been shared, properly processed, and the warning signals acted upon,” said Mr Costello.

MI5 received the tip-off from the FBI agent, David Rupert. He had been working undercover in the ranks of the Real IRA.

According to reports, he warned that Omagh or Derry - but most likely Omagh - was to be hit by a ‘Real IRA’ unit based in Fermanagh and the Letterkenny area of neighbouring County Donegal.

The RUC was aware at the time that a planned paramilitary operation had been disrupted. However, according to security sources yesterday, police found no trace on their records of any MI5 intelligence that Omagh or Derry would be a target.

Details emerged after inquiries in the United States, where detectives investigating the Omagh bombing spoke with David Rupert and examined email messages that the US agent had once exchanged with his FBI and MI5 handlers.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Jim O’Keefe said the failure by MI5 to pass on the information reinforced the need for a cross-border inquiry into the Omagh bombing.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News