International Relations Committee: Summary of committee investigation
of "IRA Links to FARC Narco-Terrorists in Colombia," April 24, 2002
ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
U.S. House of Representatives
Summary of Investigation
of IRA Links
to FARC Narco-Terrorists in Colombia
April 24, 2001
Investigative findings on the activities of the
Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Colombia.
Prepared by the Majority
Staff of the House International Relations Committee
On August 11, 2001,
two members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), along with a representative
of Sinn Fein, the IRAs political wing, who was known to be stationed
in Cuba and reportedly on the payroll of the Cuban Communist Party, were
arrested by Colombian authorities at the El Dorado airport in Bogota after
leaving territory in southern Colombia controlled by the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a designated foreign terrorist organization.
The three men were carrying false identification documents (passports)
and were found to have traces of explosives on their clothing and on items
in their luggage. Two of the Irish nationals were the IRAs leading
explosives engineer and a mortar expert.
The Irish nationals
were first detained by Colombian authorities and were initially charged
by the Fiscalia, the Colombian prosecutors office, for using false
travel documents. The three claimed they were in Colombia to monitor ongoing
peace efforts in that country between the government of President Andreas
Pastrana and various rebel groups. The three were later formally indicted
by the Fiscalia in February, 2002 and charged with training FARC terrorists
in explosives and using false passports to cover their true identities
while in Colombia.
In addition to having
positive forensic trace evidence of explosives on their belongings, the
three Irish nationals have been identified by a FARC defector who surrendered
to the Fiscalia in 2001. This individual reportedly identified photographs
of three Irish nationals as the same individuals from whom he received
explosives training in the FARC safe haven. Committee investigators are
aware of additional corroborating witnesses in addition to this FARC defector,
and as a result, Colombian authorities believe they have developed a strong
criminal case against the three Irish nationals.
The initial case
against the Irish nationals was developed by Colombian military intelligence,
and both the U.S. and the British embassies in Bogota responded to inquiries
from Colombian authorities regarding the three after their arrest on August
11. Because two of the three were traveling on falsified British passports,
the first information about the arrests was received by the British embassy
in Bogota when a weekend duty officer received a call from Colombian authorities.
The initial British response to the arrests was to conduct routine consular
work and to request assistance from the U.S. embassy in Bogota.
The obvious question,
of course, is that if the IRA were legitimately concerned with the peace
process in Colombia, why would the detained Irish nationals have needed
false passports to conceal their identities, and why would the IRA have
sent experts in explosives? Following the arrest of the Irish nationals,
the Colombian government, in fact, changed its procedure for entry of
foreigners into the FARC safe haven, requiring a license from its peace
envoy, until the demilitarized zone (DMZ) was finally closed on February
The claim by the
three Irish nationals that their activities in the DMZ were related to
the peace process does not appear to be supported by the facts. The Colombian
government, which organized and tracked mediation efforts by outside groups
and individuals including numerous Europeans, did not know of the threes
activities in the FARC safe haven.
interviewed ambassadors representing the group of ten nations working
in support of the Colombian governments peace process with the FARC.
These diplomats were in the FARC safe haven in Colombia at the very same
time in July/August, 2001 that the three Irish nationals were in the DMZ.
None of these diplomats recognized these Irishmen by name or by the photos
that committee investigators showed them, nor had they been aware of any
FARC links to the Irish or the Irish peace process. Additionally, they
said the FARC leadership with whom they met to discuss the peace process
never mentioned the Irish peace process or these Irish nationals. However,
a senior Latin American diplomat interviewed said he was not surprised
that the IRA may have been brought in to train FARC in urban warfare techniques
to counter the $1.3 billion in U.S. counter-drug assistance, including
helicopters, provided to Colombia beginning in FY 2000.
Events in Colombia
make it clear that global terrorist networks are interchangeable, aggressive,
and know no boundaries or borders, threatening anyone and any nation.
The situation in Colombia illustrates the growing phenomenon of proceeds
from illicit drugs playing a major role in financing the activities of
global terrorist networks. The FARC is believed by knowledgeable Colombians
to take in as much as $2 million a day in illicit drug proceeds. British
sources suggest, although there is no hard evidence, that the IRA may
have received as much as $2 million for the explosives training they provided
to the FARC. There also may be some ideological alliances, as some in
Colombia believe. There is no evidence of any payment in drugs by the
FARC for the IRA training.
believe that at least five and as many as15 IRA-linked individuals have
been traveling in and out of Colombia since at least 1998. According to
Colombian authorities, the arrests in August, 2001 are merely the first
publicly-exposed IRA activity in Colombia. However, more alarming than
the number of IRA-related individuals who have visited Colombia is the
stature of some of these individuals who Colombian authorities identified
as senior IRA explosive experts and technicians.
90 percent of the cocaine and at least 70 percent of the heroin sold in
the United States. Largely because of this serious drug threat, the U.S.
has a significant presence in that country to assist the Colombian authorities
in fighting that threat.
The FARC is formally
designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the U.S. Department
of State. It is thought to be "the most dangerous international terrorist
group based in this hemisphere," according to a State Department
official. The FARC narco-terrorists openly target American civilians in
Colombia, kidnaping and killing them. U.S. federal indictments were issued
on March 18, 2002 against several FARC leaders based on evidence of conspiracy
to traffic drugs to the United States.
Improvements in the
FARCs ability to carry out terrorist bombings which Colombian authorities
link to the IRAs activity directly impact our national interests
in Colombia. The country is already the third largest recipient of U.S.
aid, and of particular concern is the large American presence (DEA, special
forces, contractors, embassy personnel, etc.) related to drug-fighting
efforts in Colombia. Hundreds of temporary duty personnel (TDY) are in
Colombia on any given day. As American assistance increases and the U.S.
enlarges its direct counter-terrorism role against the FARC, more Americans
could be at risk from the IRA terrorist training of the FARC identified
by Colombian authorities.
In light of the long
history of very strict IRA discipline against freelancing by its membership,
the only real question remaining in the committees inquiry concerns
what the Sinn Fein leadership (IRAs political wing) knew about these
IRA activities in Colombia, and when did they learn of them. These were
the questions posed in Chairman Henry Hydes March 13th invitation
letter to Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein. In a brief meeting, a senior
Sinn Fein leader was adamant about the groups lack of knowledge
of these events in Colombia. Only time and history can ultimately judge
this response. However, since the congressional staffs most recent
return from Colombia, the IRA has suggested an answer to the questions
in its April 8th statement on its much welcomed and constructive second
arms decommissioning: "...the IRA is a highly disciplined and committed
organization...we are relying on the discipline and commitment of our
support base and volunteers."
Some apparently would
hope this matter would disappear so as to not impede shared governance
in Northern Ireland. The United States does not have the luxury of turning
a blind eye when American lives and national interests are put at risk
by IRA activity in Colombia. Colombian authorities believe that the rapidly
escalating casualties they have suffered from terrorist attacks since
the FARC safe haven was ended in early 2002 are in substantial measure
attributable to these IRA training activities.
At the request of
a bipartisan group of members, the committees investigative staff
has conducted an extensive nine-month inquiry, interviewing Colombian
officials, advisors, and police. Committee investigators also conducted
inquiries in Cuba, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ireland (including Northern
Ireland), and the United States. In the wake of the August arrests of
the three Irish nationals, Investigative Counsel John Mackey has conducted
dozens of interviews, met with numerous experts from law enforcement and
intelligence services here and abroad, and reviewed documents and materials.
Absent the excellent work of Colombian military intelligence leading to
the arrests of the three Irish nationals in August, 2001 and their excellent
follow-up along with that of the Colombian police and the Fiscalia, the
IRA activity in Colombia would likely have continued unnoticed, indefinitely.
The IRA has had well-established
links with the FARC narco-terrorists in Colombia since at least 1998.
More Irish nationals than just the three arrested in Colombia in August,
2001 may have been involved in visiting Colombia for possible terrorist
activities. It appears they have been training in the FARC safe haven
in explosives management, including mortar and possibly car-bomb urban
terrorist techniques, and possibly using the rural jungles of the safe
haven as a location to test and improve the IRAs own terrorist weapons
training for the FARC by the IRA, and possibly by other foreign-based
terrorists suspected by the Colombians, such as Cubans, Iranians, ETA
(the Spanish Basque terrorist group), among others, has markedly improved
the FARCs proficiency in urban terrorism in the last few years.
ETA has had past relations with the IRA, is active in both Cuba and Colombia,
and may provide the link which brought the FARC and IRA together. (Note:
The Sinn Fein representative arrested August, 2001 in Colombia was Cuban-based
New techniques in
urban terrorism are being employed by the FARC in car bombings which target
police explosives teams and other first-responders whose job is to dismantle
or neutralize these deadly devices. (The police have lost more than 10
percent of their bomb technicians to bombings in the last 12 months.)
This is a typical IRA method of operation. The use of mobile mortars on
trucks and pickups, which the FARC is getting increasingly effective at
using, is also strikingly similar to known IRA explosive techniques and
practices. Neither committee investigators nor the Colombians can find
credible explanations for the increased, more sophisticated capacity for
these specific terror tactics now being employed by the FARC, other than
Alleged IRA training
is now having a severe and adverse impact on Colombian life. Apparently
IRA explosives management training techniques are resulting in more effective
explosives attacks against the Colombian urban infrastructure including
bridges, power lines, reservoirs, and other facilities. The training provided
by the IRA and exposed by the arrests last summer has been followed by
numerous bombings and other terrorist attacks. The military and police
casualties mount daily, weakening Colombian democracy further. One police
Colonel from Narino Department (a FARC stronghold) told us of an unprecedented
loss of three police bomb technicians and 19 police officers who were
killed by FARC mortars in just the last 18 months alone.
assert that not only has the IRA operated in the former safe haven on
behalf of the FARC, but also the Iranians, Cubans, and possibly ETA (Basque
terrorists), among others. Colombia is a potential breeding ground for
international terror equaled perhaps only by Afghanistan, and the IRA
findings are the strongest among these global links because of the arrests
of the three Irish nationals and the accompanying evidence. It is likely
that in the former FARC safe haven, all of these terrorist groups had
been sharing techniques, honing their terrorism skills, using illicit
drug proceeds in payment and collectively helping to challenge the rule
of law in Colombia, the oldest democracy in South America.
As the forces of
global terrorism, illicit drugs, and organized crime converge upon Colombia
to produce new challenges to the international system, the United States
must reassess its current policy permitting military assistance provided
under Plan Colombia to be used exclusively for counter-narcotics programs.
The threat of drug-financed terrorism and organized crime of a global
reach, illustrated by developments in Colombia, must be addressed by changes
in U.S. law that will permit American assistance for counter-terrorism
As of April 24, 2002,
this document was also available online at http://www.house.gov/international_relations/findings.htm