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Colombia says Irish fugitives have fled country

Three Irish fugitives convicted of teaching leftist Colombian guerrillas how to make bombs have escaped the country, Colombia’s attorney general says.
/ Source: Reuters

Three Irish fugitives convicted of teaching leftist Colombian guerrillas how to make bombs have escaped the Andean country and are at large outside its borders, Colombia’s attorney general said late on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, we know they left the country but we will try to find out what country has received them in order to see that justice is done,” Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio told Reuters.

A top Colombian court earlier on Thursday sentenced Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley to 17 years in prison, overturning their June acquittal on charges they were Irish Republican Army members who gave bomb-making lessons to the country’s biggest rebel group.

The trio had been thought to be hiding in Colombia pending the government’s appeal against their acquittal. They said they feared reprisals from Colombia’s far-right paramilitary groups known for killing rebel sympathizers.

“I believe it is possible (to capture the men) and that it is the obligation of the international community to collaborate with us in order to make that happen,” Osorio said.

The government said the three, who deny being IRA members, traveled to a rebel-held part of the country’s south to instruct the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a 17,000-strong band known by the Spanish initials FARC.

The trio was arrested at Bogota’s airport in August 2001. But prosecutors failed in the original trial to prove the men were doing anything illegal beyond carrying false passports.

They admitted to meeting with the FARC and spending several weeks near a large guerrilla camp. But they said they were there to learn about peace talks, which subsequently collapsed.

Circumstantial evidence
Citing what it called strong circumstantial evidence, the Penal Chamber of Bogota’s Supreme Tribunal on Thursday overturned a lower court’s acquittal and issued an order for immediate capture of the trio.

The Tribunal said the presence of bomb-making materials on the clothing of the defendants, along with their knowledge of explosives and the fact they were carrying false documents constituted strong enough evidence to convict.

“Even though this evidence in itself did not constitute full proof .... it leads to the certainty of guilt,” the attorney general’s office said in a news release.

Connolly was once a Cuba representative of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political arm. McCauley was convicted in Northern Ireland of firearms offenses in 1985, while Monaghan has a conviction in the Irish Republic for possessing explosives with intent in the 1970s.