A court heard today that the 1998 mass murder bomb attack on Omagh, Co Tyrone, was carried out jointly by the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA Irish Republican terror groups.
The description was alleged to have came from Michael McKevitt, aged 51, from Dundalk, Co Louth, the first man to be charged in the republic with directing terrorist activities, the court heard.
The charge has been brought against McKevitt, alleged to be the leader of the Real IRA, under the terms of legislation introduced in Dublin after the Omagh outrage that killed 29 people and injured more than 200 others. He is also charged with being a member of an illegal organisation.
The court was told McKevitt talked of the bombing at a series of meetings he had with American citizen David Rupert, set to be the main witness for the prosecution in his trial in Dublin’s anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court early next year.
At another of the meetings McKevitt was said today by prosecuting counsel George Birmingham to have spoken about an unspecified incident that would “overshadow” Omagh, and on another occasion he referred to a former member of the Foreign Legion named as James Smith from Massachusetts and said: “If you wanted to have Tony Blair assassinated he is your man.”
McKevitt was alleged to have told a meeting attended by Mr Rupert that the Omagh bomb was fused by the Real IRA but that the target had been selected by the continuity IRA.
Today’s proceedings in the Special Criminal Court dealt with the preliminary hearing in connection with the disclosure of documents relating to the case from the prosecution to McKevitt’s defence lawyers.
Among those in the no-jury court prepared to give evidence was the British Ambassador to Ireland Ivor Roberts, marking the first courtroom development of its kind to involve an envoy based in Dublin.
Also there were two official witnesses from the United States, the assistant director of the counter terrorism section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and an FBI field officer.
McKevitt blew a kiss towards his wife Bernadette Sands-McKevitt – the sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands – as he was led into the court.
He was immediately greeted by an intervention from Laurence Rush whose wife Elizabeth died at Omagh.
Mr Rush shouted: “My name is Laurence Rush. I will see you get justice for murdering my wife.”
Ironically Mr Rush then went to sit in the gallery of the court, next to Bernadette Sands-McKevitt.
Defence counsel Hugh Hartnett made it clear that major questions would be raised over the credibility of the chief witness against his client, Mr Rush.
He referred to investigations made against Mr Rupert over allegations of smuggling aliens and drugs in the United States and said there had to be real questions over his entire credibility.
Outlining the case Mr Birmingham said Mr Rupert had first come to Ireland in 1992 when his then girlfriend, who accompanied him, was a political activist from Florida with a strong Irish nationalist interest.
He had subsequently met senior members of the Republic Sinn Fein political party and its military wing the Continuity IRA.
When gardaí learned of his presence they contacted the FBI and as a result Mr Rupert was later approached by both that agency to work for them and the gardaí and was also asked to work on behalf of the British intelligence services.
Mr Rupert had indicated that he was willing to do so.
He subsequently attended a number of meetings with McKevitt and ruling army council members of the continuity IRA during which a number of incidents, including Omagh, attacks in Northern Ireland and the bombing of Hammersmith in London, had been discussed.