Northern Ireland man guilty of gun smuggling plot
A man in Northern Ireland caught in a sting operation mounted by British secret agents was found guilty Wednesday of trying to smuggle weapons and explosives into the province.
Paul McCaugherty, 43, had attempted to import an arsenal worth more than 100,000 euros (123,000 dollars) from an MI5 agent posing as a dealer.
McCaugherty says he is a commander of the Real IRA dissident republican group, which claimed responsibility for shooting dead two British soldiers in the province last year.
Judge Anthony Hart, ruling in the non-jury case at Belfast Crown Court, said the evidence against McCaugherty was "extremely compelling".
"He was one of a group of terrorists determined to buy arms and explosives to carry out attacks on members of the security forces in Northern Ireland," he added.
The judge concluded that McCaugherty had not been the victim of entrapment because if the arms dealer had been genuine, he would have gone ahead with the sale anyway.
Hart described the sting operation as an "elaborate and successful" hoax.
The court heard evidence from an MI5 agent, identified only as Ali, who posed as an arms dealer in meetings with McCaugherty in different European cities between 2004 and 2006.
Another man, Declan Dermot Gregory, was found guilty of buying a property in Portugal with the intention of selling it to raise money for the Real IRA.
The two men will be sentenced in September.
The trial was the first time in 20 years that MI5 agents have given evidence in a Belfast court.
Northern Ireland was rocked for the three decades by violence pitting Roman Catholics against Protestants which left some 3,500 people dead.
The violence was largely ended by a 1998 peace deal, but dissident groups opposed to the peace process such as the Real IRA continue to pose a threat to security services.
© 2010 AFP