The IRA has formed part of a global terror network based in Colombia, training Marxist rebels alongside Iranian and Cuban officials, a report by the US Congress said today.
By helping FARC guerrillas, the IRA has threatened both Colombian democracy and US national interests, the nine-month investigation by the House International Relations Committee claimed.
‘‘Colombia is a potential breeding ground for international terror equalled perhaps only by Afghanistan. The IRA findings are the strongest among these global links because of the arrests of the three Irish nationals and the accompanying evidence,’’ it concluded.
The committee launched the probe after three Irish nationals were arrested in Colombia last August suspected of training FARC rebels.
Its findings were released ahead of today’s hearing aimed at investigating the alleged links between the IRA and Colombian rebels, which will be held in the absence of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
Mr Adams refused to take the stand, claiming his testimony could prejudice the trial of the three Irish men.
The committee’s report said that Colombian authorities assert that not only has the IRA operated in the former safe haven on behalf of the FARC, but also the Iranians, Cubans and possibly Basque separatist movement ETA.
It added: ‘‘It is likely that in the former FARC safe haven these terrorist groups had been sharing techniques, honing their terrorism skills, using illicit drug proceeds in payment and collectively helping to challenge the rule of law in Colombia.’’
Despite the findings, the Sinn Féin president announced yesterday he would not be flying to Washington to face questions on the arrests of three republicans.
In a letter to committee chairman Congressman Henry Hyde, Mr Adams said he could not attend because he was ‘‘concerned’’ it would impact the legal process in Colombia.
The Sinn Féin leader added he was worried at the way ‘‘anti-peace process elements in Britain and Ireland have seized upon the hearings to damage the peace process itself’’.
He said the arrest of the three Irish citizens in Colombia constituted ‘‘a possible miscarriage of justice’’, and were being used to undermine Sinn Féin’s contribution to the peace process.
But Congressman Hyde insisted it was in the ‘‘US national interest’’ that Mr Adams should give evidence.
He said Mr Adams had been offered an opportunity to explain ‘‘why two IRA explosives experts and a Sinn Féin political officer stationed in Cuba were arrested last August following a visit to a safe haven’’ controlled by FARC, which was a designated terrorist group.
Ulster Unionists also accused him of ‘‘running scared’’ of the US House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee.
Sinn Féin minister Martin McGuinness hit back, accusing the veteran US politician of issuing a ‘‘shocking statement’’ which would ‘‘seriously prejudice any possibility that these people will receive a fair trial’’.
General Fernando Tapias, commander of the Colombian armed forces, is expected to assert that the IRA operated in the former safe haven on behalf of FARC in his evidence to the committee.
Asa Hutchinson, Administrator of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and Mark Wong, Deputy Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, in the US Department of State were also giving evidence.
Colombian officials are expected to decide later this year on whether the three suspected Republicans, James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley, will face trial.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Quentin Davies MP, said: ‘‘It is quite clear that this is the reason why Gerry Adams refused to testify before the Hyde committee this week.
‘‘He evidently has no defence against these devastating charges. There is clearly a network of mafia and terrorist organisations around the word and the IRA is at the centre of it.