Irishman in Lithuania trial denies arms were for Real IRA

25th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

An Irishman on trial in Lithuania on terrorism charges admitted Wednesday that he purchased weapons in the Baltic state but denied they were for dissident paramilitary group the Real IRA.

Michael Campbell told a court in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius he was set up by British intelligence and denied he plotted to boost the arsenal of the Real Irish Republican Army, led by his elder brother.

"I made no arrangement with my brother or any other person who supports the Real IRA," he said.

He declined to tell the court for whom the arms were destined.

Campbell, now 38, was arrested in January 2008 in Vilnius as he met with an undercover Lithuanian officer posing as an arms dealer.

His trial opened in August 2009. Open hearings have been rare due to a black-out when Lithuanian and British intelligence witnesses testified.

Campbell rejects charges of attempted weapons smuggling, illegal firearms possession and seeking to aid a terrorist organisation. He faces a 20-year sentence if convicted.

Wednesday's session marked a key stage, as Campbell summed up his defence in public.

Campbell's family ties are crucial to the prosecution case because his brother Liam, 47, is one of the four leaders of the Real IRA found liable by a civil court for a 1998 bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland, which killed 29 people.

Michael Campbell's lawyers insist his background is irrelevant, and that he has never been charged with, let alone convicted of, membership of an illegal organisation.

He told the court that he was sucked in by Robert Jardine, who testified earlier in the trial and was identified by lawyers as a smuggler working for British intelligence.

Challenged as to why he allegedly told Lithuanian undercover agents he was from the Real IRA, he blamed Jardine.

"It was part of the legend, that it would be better to say you are the Real IRA," he said.

"I am not a member of the Real IRA," he insisted.

The Real IRA broke with the Provisional IRA -- once the main armed group opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland -- in 1997 over the latter's support for a peace deal with London.

© 2011 AFP

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