Irish dissident convicted in MI5 weapons sting

October 24, 2011 - 5:01 AM

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — A judge found an Irish man guilty Friday of trying to buy weapons and explosives during a six-year sting orchestrated by Britain's domestic spy agency MI5, in a case that drew attention to a hardcore Irish Republican Army splinter group's plans to spread terror to London.

Judge Arunas Kisielus of the Vilnius Regional Court sentenced Michael Campbell — a 39-year-old with alleged links to the Real IRA — to 12 years in prison for weapons offenses and supporting a terrorist group.

Video footage and intercepted communications showed that Campbell paid some euro6,000 for high-grade explosives, grenade launchers, detonators, AK-47s and a special assassin's rifle to Lithuanian agents posing as arms dealers.

In an audio recording, he is heard discussing how easy it would be with the type of equipment on offer to plant a bomb in London and escape.

"You can imagine us getting over to England ... You imagine, with a six-hour timer, we could be over to London and back," Campbell says in an audio clip after mulling over a price list for explosives and detonators. "Just tick, tick, tick, tick ... gone.

Campbell had pleaded innocent, claiming he was a victim of entrapment.

His 2008 arrest was part of an international sting operation aimed at incapacitating the Real IRA, which broke from the IRA in 1997 over its support for a peace deal. The group is regarded as a terrorist organization by the U.K. and the United States.

The group, which vows to continue the armed fight for independence from British rule, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks in Northern Ireland, including the murder of two British soldiers in March. Most of their recent attacks have been unsuccessful — due largely to a diminished or aging weapons stockpile.