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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-IRA Offshoot Leader Loses Bid for FBI Records

(CN) - The jailed former leader of an Irish Republican Army splinter group said to be responsible for a car bombing that killed 29 people lost his bid in Manhattan Federal Court to obtain FBI documents related to his criminal trial in Ireland.

Michael McKevitt, referred to as "John McKevitt" in his complaint, is accused of ordering the devastating bombing considered the worst ever in Northern Ireland.

More than 200 people were injured when a car bomb exploded in a crowded section of Omagh, Northern Ireland on Aug. 15, 1998.

McKevitt was the purported leader of the Real IRA, described as a "splinter group of the former Provisional Irish Republican Army members opposed to the Good Friday Agreement."

He's named as a defendant in a civil suit in Northern Ireland brought by family members of the victims. McKevitt was one of four people found liable for the bombing in June in a different civil case.

Nobody has been convicted in criminal court for the killings. McKevitt was found guilty in Ireland's non-jury Special Criminal Court of two offenses: belonging to an illegal organization and directing terrorism. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

He was the first person in his state's history to be convicted of directing terrorism, a charge created in response to the Omagh bombing.

A key witness for the prosecution was a man named David Rupert, a New York businessman who admitted that he was a paid operative of the FBI and M15, the British intelligence agency, according to McKevitt. Rupert claimed to have infiltrated the Real IRA on behalf of those agencies.

McKevitt wanted to view documents that detailed Rupert's relationship with the FBI and M15, such as how much money he was paid by the bureau, his criminal history and his tax affairs. McKevitt argued that the information is "not only pertinent to the defense of his civil action, but is essential to his challenge of the witness's credibility." McKevitt said his conviction was "based largely on the testimonial evidence" of Rupert.

FBI Director Robert Mueller III was among the defendants named in the action.

U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that the government did not improperly withhold the information from McKevitt, because he never filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

"The plaintiff did not make a FOIA request, have it denied, and then appeal in the Department of Justice," Koeltl wrote. "Rather, he sought evidence under the Hague Evidence Convention. The government declined to produce documents under the rationale of FOIA exemptions, but the government's response was not a response to a FOIA request because no such FOIA request was ever made."

The 29 victims of the car bombing were Catholics and Protestants, numerous children and a woman carrying twins.

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