BENGHAZI (Reuters) - Explosives that killed a Northern Ireland police officer at the weekend probably came from stocks Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s government sent to the IRA in the past, a lawyer who represents British victims of IRA attacks said on Monday.
A 25-year-old Catholic policeman on Saturday when a bomb exploded under his car in Omagh, the first killing of a policeman in Northern Ireland for two years by nationalist militants opposed to British rule in the province.
Jason McCue, the head of the UK-based Libya Victims Initiative, said tonnes of Semtex explosive had been supplied by Libya to the IRA from the 1980s.
With the signing of the Northern Ireland peace agreement in 1998 and the surrender of weapons, a great deal was unaccounted for and had probably fallen into the hands of splinter groups who continue the armed struggle against British rule.
“I would not be surprised if Omagh was Libyan Semtex,” said McCue, who is in Benghazi at the invitation of the rebel national council leading the uprising against Gaddafi’s rule.
The IRA connection with Libya goes back to the 1970s when Irish paramilitaries were trained in the Libyan desert. Gaddafi started sending shipments of Semtex, originating from then Czechoslovakia, in the mid-1980s, McCue said.
“There were tonnes of Semtex. Gaddafi was waging war on the United Kingdom in this way,” he told reporters in Benghazi.
Libyan-supplied Semtex was used in all the major bombings of the IRA campaign, from Enniskillen to Canary Wharf, he said.
Libyan intelligence handed over lists to the British government when rapprochement was under way with government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, but a large amount was missing.
He also said that former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who sought political asylum in London last week, had been in charge of Tripoli’s relations with the IRA.
McCue said he was in Libya to gather evidence and to discuss an apology from Libya to the IRA victims. His mission also had a broader aim of offering support to the rebel council in setting up a justice system and civil society, he said.
Its willingness to engage on the past militant issues — even though it was not responsible for them — showed that it was a responsible body which deserved recognition, he said.
“We are not here to talk about litigation. We would like to help them gain recognition by dealing with legacy issues,” he said.
He also said the British and U.S. policy of rapprochement with Gaddafi in the years before the uprising broke out was “abhorrent.”
“The policy to bring him into the fold was nonsense. Just because he renounced weapons of mass destruction doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.”
A civil action case brought by the Libya Victims Initiative in U.S. courts on behalf of 153 families had been stayed by the then Bush administration as it sought to improve ties with Gaddafi, he said.
Three American families had been paid compensation out of a fund set up by Tripoli under an agreement with Washington but the Europeans, mostly British, had received nothing , he said.
“The IRA victims have never had an apology from the Gaddafi regime.”
Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Jon Boyle