19/08/2009

Lithuanian Arms 'Sting' Outlined In Court

New details of an international 'sting operation' have emerged as the trial of a Co Louth man charged with trying to buy arms and explosives for the Real IRA was adjourned until October.

Lithuanian prosecutors alleged Michael Campbell, 36, had attempted to negotiate a deal for guns, ammunition and bomb-making materials for the dissident republican group.

The trial in Lithuania heard yesterday that he was caught allegedly trying to buy weapons from an intelligence officer posing as an international arms dealer.

Michael Campbell, from Dundalk, asked for reporters to be removed from the courtroom, but the request was turned down.

The judge also rejected the prosecutor's request for the trial to be closed to the public.

However, he said it could be closed when witnesses whose identities needed to be protected were testifying.

The Real IRA has claimed responsibility for a number of serious attacks, including the murder of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland in March.

The accused's brother, Liam Campbell, was also one of four men held responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing, following a landmark civil action. The Omagh blast killed 29 people and unborn twins.

The Lithuanian authorities are seeking his extradition from Northern Ireland and have also begun extradition proceedings against two others, Seamus McGreevy and Brendan McGuigan.

They are wanted for questioning in relation to the alleged arms smuggling operation.

"The General Prosecutor of Lithuania has issued European arrest warrants, and we are seeking that they would be surrendered," Mr Mikelionis said.

Liam Campbell is in custody in Northern Ireland, while the case against McGuigan, 29, of Omeath, Co Louth, and McGreevy, 56, of Gormanstown, Co Meath, will be heard in Dublin's High Court in November.

Michael Campbell's arrest followed a sting operation involving the British, Irish and Lithuanian intelligence agencies involving a series of meetings in France and Poland.

Mr Campbell eventually came to Lithuania, where he was kept under police surveillance.

They allege he paid €10,000 (£8,600) for a haul of weapons including a sniper rifle, detonators, timers and about 10kg (22lb) of high explosives.

He was detained after allegedly handing over the money in a garage in the industrial zone of Vilnius to the 'arms dealers' who were, in fact, Lithuanian intelligence agents.

Mr Campbell has been charged with the possession and attempted smuggling of illegal weapons and supporting a terrorist organisation.

The latter charge carries a possible 20-year sentence.

But his lawyers question the means by which he was detained and also say there is not enough evidence to convict him.

Defence lawyers made a request for Mr Campbell to be released on bail as they said he was being held in poor conditions and had been denied family visits.

However, the judge said a decision on this would be made next week.

(BMcC/KMcA)

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