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Leader of Real IRA is jailed for 20 years
By Thomas Harding, Ireland Correspondent
(Filed: 08/08/2003)

Michael McKevitt, the Real IRA leader, was jailed for 20 years yesterday as security sources said only he knew the hiding places of a substantial arsenal that could be used in terrorist attacks.

However, the sentence passed on the mastermind of the Omagh bombing means that his own opportunities for direct participation in future terrorism will be limited.

He is likely to remain behind bars until at least 2016 at the top-security Portlaoise jail outside Dublin.

He was convicted of directing terrorism and membership of the IRA and he also received a six-year sentence, to run concurrently, for membership of the IRA.

McKevitt, 53, was the first person to be convicted under legislation introduced after the Omagh atrocity in which 29 people were killed.

Although his convictions did not directly cover Omagh, Judge Richard Johnson, sitting at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, said McKevitt had "planned and premeditated and contemplated to do serious harm to people and property".

McKevitt had played a "leading role" in directing the Real IRA and "induced others to join".

Because McKevitt's offences were dated from a year after the 1998 Omagh bomb the court "must not allow itself to seek revenge for the victims of that atrocity and does not intend to do so".

McKevitt, who refused to leave his cell for sentencing, appeared in court afterwards to say: "I would like to appeal."

This was refused after the three judges said McKevitt had failed to explain his reasons. It is understood McKevitt has two weeks in which to take the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden, 21, was among those killed at Omagh, said: "This must send out a message to others who think they can go out and plant bombs or send other people to plant bombs like he did and expect to get away with it.

"There's no doubt in my mind this man had involvement in Omagh, had knowledge of Omagh and had the power to stop Omagh."

A spokesman for the Omagh Victims' Civil Action Group, which is suing McKevitt and four other alleged Real IRA men for damages, said: "McKevitt, now a convicted terrorist, will have his defence paid for by the British taxpayer through legal aid." The group's action still requires 800,000 to proceed.

While at least two people in the Real IRA each know where some of the organisation's arsenal is stored, only McKevitt knows exactly where 100 kilograms of Semtex, 100 AK47 assault rifles and half-a-dozen medium machineguns are hidden.

Last year, McKevitt led the condemnation of the Real IRA's leadership outside jail, accusing them of corruption and lacking political direction.

During his 14 years as quartermaster-general of the Provisional IRA, McKevitt oversaw the storing of all arms and explosives, including 134 tons from Col Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.

"McKevitt is the only person who knows where all the weaponry is, all the juicy stuff," said a security source.

"People who had arms stored on their land did not owe loyalty to Gerry Adams but to Micky McKevitt. When the split came with the Provisionals in 1997, McKevitt was ordered to hand over all weapons under his control but no one knew what exactly he had. He handed over only a portion."

While the Real IRA retains the capacity to detonate a bomb the size of the 500lb device left in Omagh it does not have the capability for a sustained campaign.

A Real IRA source told the Irish Times: "The conviction of any individual, even if they had remained a member of Oglaigh nahEireann (IRA), will change nothing. The British alone have the power to end the conflict by leaving our country."

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