A US House of Representatives committee has issued a report linking the Irish Republican Army to international terror groups in Colombia. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams denies the accusations.
Is the IRA expanding its network to South America?
"The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has not trained rebels in Colombia," the Irish republican group Sinn Fein insisted after Wednesday’s publication of a US report showing a connection between the IRA and Colombian terrorists.
The report, compiled by the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, presented findings from a special nine-month investigation into the activities of the IRA in Colombia. In the report, the House committee stated that several years of training from the IRA had enabled Colombian guerrillas to improve their proficiency in waging "urban terrorism".
The investigation, which was originally formed to examine the connection between Colombia, drugs and international terrorism, concluded that the IRA has maintained contact with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) for at least five years. Along with Iranians, Cubans and members of the ETA (Basque separatists), the IRA has been "sharing techniques, honing their terrorism skills, using illicit drug proceeds in payment and collectively helping to challenge the rule of law in Colombia", the House report stated.
Statements by the Commander in Chief of Colombia’s armed forces, General Fernando Tapias, reinforced the connection between the IRA and the FARC. During a hearing on Wednesday in front of the House International Relations committee, Tapias claimed that at least seven, and possibly 15, members of the IRA have helped train FARC guerillas in his country.
Last year in August, three Irishmen were arrested in the FARC-controlled territory of southern Colombia. Allegedly prominent members of the IRA, the men were caught carrying false passports and bearing traces of explosives. They are expected to go on trial this year on charges of teaching bomb-making skills to the FARC.
General Tapias said that throughout the last several years IRA members "have entered particular zones, where they are actively buttressing the terrorist procedures and activities of the FARC and we have noted the FARC modus operandi have been modified as a result of some terrorist training".
The House committee took note of the general’s comments and concluded in their report "it appears IRA members have been training in the FARC safe haven in explosives management, including mortar and possibly car-bomb urban terrorist techniques."
The committee also noted similarities between IRA techniques and those recently employed by the FARC in Colombian cities such as the use of mobile mortars mounted on trucks or pickups and secondary explosions to hit those who respond to a first explosion.
Sinn Fein retaliation
Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, and Irish nationalist sympathizers in the US have dismissed Wednesday’s report as pure speculation.
Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, rejected the findings of the House investigation. There is "nothing to back up these assertions," he said. He referred to the report as "allegation, innuendo and rumor, lots of qualifications, caveats and conditions, but nothing to back them up".
In a statement released late Wednesday, the IRA said its leadership had sent "no one to Colombia to train or to engage in any military cooperation with any group. The IRA has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia and will not do so."
The IRA accused the House investigation committee of using the arrest of the three Irishmen to "undermine and subvert the democratic peace process." The case against the three men is being "used again in an intense way by opponents of the peace process in Ireland and Britain", the Northern Irish group said.
Terrorists or peace makers?
The House hearing on Wednesday and the controversy surrounding the report is indicative of a growing divide between US lawmakers who advocate zero tolerance for terrorism and those who want to make exceptions for certain ‘freedom fighters’ like the IRA.
Several pro-Irish representatives were deeply disturbed by the House’s investigation, which they regarded as factually insufficient. They say the allegations against the IRA could be an attempt to weaken the Irish nationalist cause in Northern Ireland, where a peace accord was agreed to four years ago.
Democrat William Delahunt from Massachusetts said, "Unfortunately we have been presented with a report short on facts and replete with speculation, and surmise and opinion, much of which I disagree with".
Peter King, a New York Republican with strong ties to Northern Ireland, said the House report was wrong and misleading. His fellow representative Chris Smith from New Jersey said, "The enemies of the Northern Ireland peace process are likely to be disappointed .. because there is no evidence proving any link between Sinn Fein and the IRA and paramilitaries in Colombia."