Four Suspected IRA Members Arrested in Stinger Missile Purchase
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Four people believed to be members of the Irish Republican Army were arrested Friday while attempting to purchase a heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile and other weapons, the FBI announced.
The four are believed to be members of the Provisional faction of the IRA and were trying to gather weapons for terrorist activities outside the United States, said William Gavin, who heads the FBI in south Florida.
The arrests of Irish nationals Kevin Joseph McKinley, 33, Seamus Moley, 30, and Joseph McColgan, 39, and a Canadian, Sean John McCann, 34, concluded a two-month joint undercover investigation, said officials of the FBI, the U.S. Customs Service and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
On Friday, Moley went to a West Palm beach warehouse and paid undercover agents $50,000 for a ″Stinger″ missile, a shoulder-fired weapon supplied by the United States to troops for anti-aircraft defense, an FBI statement said.
″If this was fired at an airliner it could blow it right out of the sky, so one of these missiles could cause an extreme amount of damage,″ said Timothy Wagner, head of the Customs Service in Florida.
″The Stinger missile is a surface-to-air missile that is used against aircraft. So one would have to believe that if they expressed an interest in procuring this type of weaponry, they planned a terrorist act, obviously against an aircraft,″ added Robert Creighton, who heads ATF in Florida.
Each defendant was charged with conspiracy to possess destructive arms, possession of a destructive device and violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the Neutrality Law. Each faces up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted, the FBI said.
″I’m just a poor Irishman here on holiday, and I was entrapped by certain people here,″ McColgan said in a thick brogue as he was led in handcuffs from the federal courthouse. ″Certain people here offered to sell me a piece of equipment for the Irish Republican struggle.″
In a series of meetings, the suspects revealed details about past terrorist activities to persuade federal agents they were involved in terrorism and serious about buying the Stinger, the authorities said.
″When they met with our undercover agents, they described in detail events which occurred outside of the country - which did occur - and we believed absolutely they were involved,″ Creighton said.
All four men were held without bond at the Palm Beach County Jail and were scheduled for a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Ann E. Vitunac in West Palm Beach on Jan. 16.
The Stinger missile, which uses an infra-red homing device to target the heat generated by the engine of an attacking plane or helicopter, has proved highly effective against low-flying aircraft.
Some analysts credit the weapon with imposing unacceptable losses on Soviet warplanes and helicopters after the United States began supplying them to Afghan guerrillas.
Fired from a tube held on the shoulder, the Stinger vaguely resembles the World War II bazooka. It has a range of about three miles, is about 5 feet long and weighs 34.5 pounds, and carries a fragmentation warhead.
Raids in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Pennyslvania on July 12 led to the arrests of three IRA ″technical experts″ and the seizure of radar and missile parts.
A federal grand jury in Boston indicted five people in the case on charges of conspiracy to violate federal arms export regulations by attempting to develop, test and export a radar and missile system for use against British helicopters by the Provisional IRA.
The Provisional IRA, or ″Provos,″ are the guerrilla arm of the nationalist group fighting to end British rule in the six counties of Northern Ireland.