Friday, Aug 08, 2003
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By Hasan Suroor
The McKevitt case sets a precedent for other alleged terrorists who have escaped law so far because their direct involvement was never proved. The former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, hailed the judgment as a "huge breakthrough in the fight against terrorism''.
McKevitt's conviction also strengthens a civil case pending again him and four others alleged to be behind the 1998 Omagh bomb blast which claimed 29 lives and remains the worst terrorist atrocity in Northern Ireland. Although the Real IRA has claimed responsibility for the blast, not a single person has been charged even five years after the incident because of lack of evidence of any individual's direct involvement.
The families of the Omagh bomb victims welcomed McKevitt's conviction as the "first sign'' that the war against domestic terrorism was moving forward. Among those killed on August 15, 1998, when a bomb went off in a crowded high street in Omagh a small town in Northern Ireland was a pregnant woman and children. The father of one of the victims said today that the verdict should be seen as a warning by other terrorists that if they `wrecked' other people's lives their lives would also be wrecked. "The net is closing in on the Omagh bombers. Having come this far, we cannot let them get away,'' said Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son was killed in the blast.
The five-week trial had attracted huge media interest, and was marked by dramatic scenes after McKevitt dismissed his entire legal team calling the proceedings a "political show trial''.
McKevitt (53), once a senior figure in the IRA, broke away from it to form the Real IRA after the IRA leadership decided to give up violence and accept the peace process brought about by the Good Friday Agreement. It has been involved in a series of terror attacks on high-profile targets, emerging as a major republican paramilitary force whose aim is to achieve a united Ireland by violent means. McKevitt was arrested in March 2001 after a controversial sting operation involving an FBI double agent, Dave Rupert, who infiltrated the Real IRA.
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