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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Three plead guilty to bomb offences
Bratislava, Slovakia
The three defendants were arrested in Slovakia
Three men accused of being Irish republican terrorists, pleaded guilty on Thursday to bomb offences.

The trio admitted offences including conspiring to cause an explosion in the UK or Republic of Ireland last year.

All three, from the Republic of Ireland, also admitted trying to obtain detonators, rocket-propelled grenades, handguns, sniper rifles and a wire guided missile, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

Fintan Paul O'Farrell
O'Farrell: Two not guilty pleas were accepted

Fintan Paul O'Farrell, 35, Declan John Rafferty, 41, and Michael Christopher McDonald, 44, all from Co Louth, were arrested in the small spa town of Piest'any in Slovakia on 5 July last year.

They were later extradited to Britain and had been due to stand trial at Woolwich Crown Court in London.

'Momentous'

But they gave guilty pleas to the charges, which included conspiring "unlawfully and maliciously" to cause an explosion in the UK or Republic of Ireland between February 18 and July 6 last year.

The three gave their pleas in front of a packed public gallery and amid heightened security at the court.

Michael Christopher McDonald
The three were extradited to the UK

Ken Macdonald, counsel for Rafferty, told the court: "They have come to a momentous decision."

Sentencing is due to take place at Woolwich on Tuesday.

Set up

The three were caught after an elaborate sting operation by MI5 agents, who suspected them of being part of the IRA.

Posing as arms dealers from Iraq the agents are said to have lured the terrorists to Piest'any after several meetings.

O'Farrell, Rafferty and McDonald hoped to clinch an arms deal ahead of what could have been a new bombing campaign in the UK or Ireland.

Unaware of the set up, the three tried to gain explosives, detonators, rocket propelled grenades, handguns, two sniper rifles and a wire guided missile at a meeting on 5 July.

Initial charges dropped

They were arrested after the meeting by a team of armed Slovak police who were working with MI5.

Before being extradicted they were held at the Leopold prison in Trnava, in the former Czechoslovakia on an international arrest warrant issued by the Home Office.

Declan John Rafferty
The pleas were heard in a packed court

An initial charge that the three were members of the IRA was later dropped.

The three faced five charges under the Terrorism Act and one under the Explosive Substances Act 1883.

Rafferty and McDonald pleaded guilty to all charges. O'Farrell denied two of the charges under the Terrorism Act which related to an earlier meeting on April 9 when Rafferty and McDonald tried to procure weapons.

O'Farrell's pleas were accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"British agents posed as Iraqi arms dealers"
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