17 July 2003 Edition
Israelis release John Boy
MI5 set up Belfast journalist for arrest
Seán Ó Muireagáin, the Belfast man wrongly arrested in Israel on suspicion of being a 'Real IRA' member training Palestinian militants, was finally released yesterday when Israeli security officials admitted it was a case of mistaken identity.
As we go to print, the Israeli authorities have reported that Ó Muireagáin, known to his friends as John Boy, is in the process of being deported to Britain. The Israeli Embassy in Dublin also confirmed that he would be on an afternoon flight arriving at Heathrow Airport at about 7.30pm on Wednesday.
Following an MI5 tip-off, Ó Muireagáin was arrested at a checkpoint near Ramallah on Saturday by the Shin Bet security agencies on suspicion of being a bomb expert training Palestinians on the West Bank. He is, in fact, a well-known journalist and teacher who lives in Belfast and works in promoting Gaelic language and culture.
He is also a member of a pro-Palestinian organisation known as the Irish-Palestinian Solidarity Movement, a Belfast branch of the International Solidarity Movement that sends volunteers to the Territories to protest Israeli operations.
Late on Monday, Israeli Radio station 'The voice of Israel' claimed that allegations that the arrested man was an expert bombmaker were made only in foreign news reports and not by Israeli officials themselves.
Wednesday's Guardian newspaper reported that Israeli radio had reported intelligence sources as saying the only reason the man had been arrested was because of MI5. It also said that Whitehall was standing by the information it had supplied on Ó Muireagáin. The paper claimed that Ó Muireagáin may have been mistaken for another John Morgan, who is allegedly known to the British police.
Gerry Adams called for Ó Muireagáin's release at the start of the week, a call echoed by the editor of Lá, the newspaper Seán works for, and numerous other groups.
Sinn Féin welcomed the news that Ó Muireagáin was being released. Bairbre de Brún said the west Belfast man should never have been arrested in the first place. "Serious questions remain to be answered surrounding the role of British intelligence agencies in the initial arrest and elements of the media in the subsequent coverage of this incident," she said.
It is believed that Ó Muireagáin will be somewhat spoiled for choice when it comes to taking libel actions, as several of the mainstream news media here were quick to point the finger, despite the dearth of evidence against him. His family, friends and employer all confirmed that he was in Palestine for purely cultural reasons.
UUP rebel Jeffrey Donaldson was forced into an embarrassing climbdown on Tuesday, after he suggested that crown forces should check if Ó Muireagáin had been acting on behalf of the Provisional IRA.
"A mistake would appear to have been made and these people are owed an apology," he said on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the editor of Lá, Ciarán Ó Pronntaigh, who is flying out to London to meet Ó Muireagáin, said everyone at the paper was relieved at the news.
"We have a number of questions why he was arrested and why he was held. Hopefully that will come out in the days to come," he said.
Seán's parents said they were delighted with the news of their son's release.
His father, Dessie, said: "We are over the moon - this is my birthday and it is one of the happiest birthdays I have ever had. Once I see him that is all the presents I need."