Northern Ireland news

British intelligence members sent to Colombia after IRA suspects arrested

James Monaghan , Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly after their arrest in Colombia in 2001
Connla Young

MEMBERS of Sean Hartnett’s secret British army snooping unit were sent from Derry to Colombia to advise and train authorities after the Provisional IRA was caught training left-wing rebels.

James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly were all arrested as they tried to leave Colombia in August 2001 amid claims they had trained FARC rebels who were locked in a bitter conflict with the Colombian government.

In the past both Monaghan and McCauley had been given Charlie One status by the Joint Communications Unit - Northern Ireland, meaning they were high level surveillance targets.

The former soldier claims that Monaghan and McCauley were experienced IRA engineers while it emerged at the time that Connolly was Sinn Féin’s representative in Cuba.

Hartnett says the men were training FARC members in how to produce mortars, improvised explosive devices and training them in the use of weapons.

British intelligence is believed to have tipped off the Colombian authorities about the presence of the three men in their country.

The trio, who became known as the “Colombia Three”, later sneaked back into Ireland when they skipped the South American country after being handed down heavy prison sentences.

Hartnett claims members of his Co Derry based ‘North Det’ were sent to Colombia to help authorities counter the training received by the Provisional IRA.

He claims that the South American mission was passed off by senior officers as a training operation and that he was instructed to provide surveillance equipment needed for those making the trip.

He claims that on their return a colleague gave him details of the two-month operation.

He wrote: “The operators had begun by teaching the Colombians the basics of surveillance, how to track a vehicle without being spotted and such like.

He went on to say: “They did pick up on what we taught them pretty quick but they lack the equipment to back it up, and they would need years of Det help to bring everything up to speed.

“I’m not sure that there is the appetite or the capacity for that from JCU-NI.”

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