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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July, 2003, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
US omits terror groups from list

By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

The US State Department's report on patterns of global terrorism contains a wealth of detail on Northern Ireland's paramilitary groups, with some notable absences.

Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport reports on which groups are on the United States' 'A' list and why some groups did not feature in the report.

The US Envoy to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass, is reported to be examining a short list of prominent people on the US diplomatic and political scene who might be interested in serving on the new Independent Monitoring Commission.

An announcement of the Commission team in shadow form is now thought to be likely next month.

The timetable has apparently slipped as officials pour over the fine detail of the Commission's remit in an attempt to make the body acceptable both to sceptical unionists and suspicious republicans.

Many Real IRA members are former Provisional IRA members who bring to RIRA a wealth of experience in terrorist tactics and bomb making
US government report

Whenever the US does have its nominee in place he or she will no doubt want to get briefed on the fine detail of the paramilitary scene in Northern Ireland, which the Commission is meant to be monitoring.

An obvious starting point might be the US State Department's own report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism", which came out earlier this year.

The report contains a wealth of detail on most Northern Ireland based paramilitary groups. But there are a couple of glaring omissions.

One of the report's appendices contains a list of the 36 groups which the US government has designated as foreign terrorist organisations.

The only Irish group to make this 'A' list of terror, if that's the right description, is the Real IRA, the faction which carried out the Omagh bombing.

The US report describes the Real IRA as the "clandestine armed wing of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, a 'political pressure group' dedicated to removing British forces from Northern Ireland and unifying Ireland."

It says "many Real IRA members are former Provisional IRA members who left that organization following the Provisional IRA cease-fire and bring to RIRA a wealth of experience in terrorist tactics and bombmaking."

It estimates the Real IRA's strength as "100 to 200 activists plus possible limited support from IRA hardliners dissatisfied with the IRA cease-fire and other republican sympathizers."

A separate appendix, or 'B' list deals with 38 other organisations who for one reason or another did not merit the US government's worst opprobrium.

In Northern Ireland, that is either because the groups concerned are on ceasefire, or because they are not deemed significant enough to make the 'A' list.

David Ervine believes the UVF aren't listed as they don't pose a threat to the peace process

The 'B' list includes major groups like the IRA and the UDA/UFF as well as factions such as the LVF, the Red Hand Defenders and the Continuity IRA.

But there is no mention of one of the biggest and most potent loyalist terror groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force, nor of the republican splinter group, the INLA.

David Ervine, whose Progressive Unionist Party is closely linked to the UVF, said it was hard to understand why the UVF didn't feature.

With his tongue in his cheek, he suggested that it might be the fruits of all his assiduous lobbying in Washington.

More seriously, he suggested "maybe it's because the UVF don't pose a specific threat to the peace process and aren't wanting to seek political advantage through military action".

But to be fair to the State Department it looks more like a clerical error than a belief that the UVF has gone out of business.

'Particularly vicious'

An insider said "we're a huge organisation; these things happen".

The entry for the Loyalist Volunteer Force describes the LVF as a faction "composed largely of UVF hardliners who have sought to prevent a political settlement with Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland by attacking Catholic politicians, civilians, and Protestant politicians who endorse the Northern Ireland peace process".

So it's pretty clear that Washington knows the UVF still exists.

The UVF to one side, the other details in the report should make interesting reading for any would be US Monitoring Commissioner.

The omission of the UVF seems to be a clerical error

Described as "particularly vicious", the LVF is said to have "300 members, half of whom are active."

The Red Hand Defenders is referred to as "a cover name often used by elements of the banned UDA and LVF".

But it also appears the US believe the Red Hand Defenders has some existence in its own right as it is rated as having "up to 20 members, some of whom have experience in terrorist tactics and bombmaking".

The Ulster Defence Association a.k.a Ulster Freedom Fighters is acknowledged to be "the largest loyalist paramilitary group" with anything from "2,000 to 5,000 members, with several hundred active in paramilitary operations".

The report says "the UDA/UFF has evolved into a criminal organization involved in drug trafficking and other moneymaking criminal activities".

On the republican side, the Irish National Liberation Army or INLA does not feature, even though it remains very much in existence.

The Continuity IRA is described as "the clandestine armed wing of Republican Sinn Fein", which is thought to have "fewer than 50 hard-core activists".

The US report claims that "police counter-terrorist operations have reduced the group's strength, but CIRA has been able to reconstitute its membership through active recruiting efforts."

The US State Department notes that the Provisional IRA is maintaining a ceasefire but adds that it "retains the ability to conduct paramilitary operations.

The IRA's extensive criminal activities reportedly provide the organizations with millions of dollars each year."

It says the IRA has "several hundred members, plus several thousand sympathizers-despite the defection of some members to RIRA and CIRA".

In a section sub-titled "External Aid" it points out that that IRA "has in the past received aid from a variety of groups and countries and considerable training and arms from Libya and the PLO".

It goes on: "The group is also suspected of receiving funds, arms, and other terrorist-related materiel from sympathizers in the United States.

"Similarities in operations suggest links to (the Basque separatist group) ETA and the (Colombian Marxist organisation) FARC."

When they start work, the Independent Monitoring Commission could do worse than to keep a copy of "Patterns of Global Terrorism" on their bookshelves.

But they should also invest, quite separately, in a history of the UVF and the INLA.

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15 Mar 01  |  Northern Ireland
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13 Mar 01  |  Northern Ireland

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