2 March 2006 Edition

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Agents told of bomb plot: PSNI members allege cover-up

Did MI5 and Garda Special Branch allow Omagh bombing?

British Military Intelligence and Gardaí Special Branch withheld information that would have thwarted the bombing of Omagh in August 1998 and saved the lives of 29 people, unborn twins and saved dozens of people from being seriously injured, say senior members of the PSNI.

According to the Sunday Times, information from two agents alerted both the Gardaí and MI5 to the Omagh bombing, four months prior to the operation. One source was an American trucker Dave Rupert who infiltrated so-called dissident groups for MI5 and the FBI.

The second alleged source was Paddy Dixon, a car dealer and petty criminal who supplied stolen cars, gave information to the Gardaí and may have been an agent for MI5. Dixon's status as a British agent has not been established but it is alleged that in 2002 Dixon was given a new identity and resettled by MI5.

In a meeting with the families of the Omagh victims last week, four senior members of the PSNI agreed that MI5 had known months in advance of a plot to bomb Omagh or Derry. The PSNI officers said MI5 also knew the type of car to be used in the attack, a Vauxhall Cavalier, and that one of the suspects lived in Omagh.

The four officers are senior members of the PSNI, Superintendent Norman Baxter, who heads the day-to-day investigation into the Omagh bombing and his number two Colin Monteith, soon to retire Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid and Kinkaid's successor as Assistant Chief Constable, Peter Sheridan.

Despite MI5's prior knowledge, the four former RUC officers claim that information was withheld from RUC Special Branch. This, they claim, led to an anonymous call made on 4 August 1998 to warn of a planned attack in Omagh on the day of the subsequent bombing being ignored.

Of course this is not the first time RUC Special Branch has claimed they were not informed by MI5 as a means of absolving any responsibility. A similar claim has been made in relation to the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

The claim stands in sharp contrast to the conclusions drawn by Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan in her investigation into the RUC in relation to the Omagh bombing.

The evidence for the four officers' claims comes from two main sources- emails sent by Rupert to his MI5 handlers and notes kept by a Garda detective, John White who handled Dixon.

On 11 April 1998 Rupert told MI5 of a plan to bomb "Derry or Omagh" and that he had taken part in a scouting operation. MI5 informed the Gardaí. Three people were arrested but later released.

MI5 later confirmed to Rupert that the bombing had been delayed but not thwarted entirely. "We disrupted the intention to use the car bomb but maybe not for long," MI5 e-mailed Rupert.

This information was never passed to the Ombudsman during her investigation nor was it made available to Mike Tonge, a British Chief Constable tasked to carry out an inquiry by the policing board. Tonge's team specifically asked MI5 if it had any relevant information and was told that MI5 had nothing.

Rupert's role was revealed in 2000 when his e-mails were handed over to the Gardaí to aid the prosecution of Michael McKevitt.

According to the PSNI officers who briefed the Omagh families, the Gardai used Dixon to bug and intercept a number of cars used in planned attacks. But a number of operations north of the border were allowed to proceed to protect Dixon's cover.

The vehicle use in the Omagh bombing was not supplied by Dixon but was precisely the type of vehicle Rupert had warned MI5 would be used in a bombing of Omagh or Derry.

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