U.S. to designate Real IRA as Foreign Terrorist Organization
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a move sure to be welcomed by British and Irish authorities, the U.S. State Department is set to announce Wednesday it has designated the Real IRA, the Irish nationalist splinter group charged with killing 29 people in the August 1998 bombing in Omagh, as a foreign terrorist organization, senior State Department sources tell CNN.
The Real IRA broke off from the main Irish Republican Army and its political wing Sinn Fein in 1998 to oppose the decision by Sinn Fein to support the Northern Ireland peace process and work to end 30 years of fighting in Northern Ireland.
As a result of the FTO designation, officials say, many activities, including fund-raising, of the Real IRA or its two so-called "front groups" or "political pressure groups" -- the "32 County Sovereignty Movement" and the "Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association" -- are now illegal.
The designation carries the following additional legal consequences:
It is unlawful to provide funds or other material support to a designated FTO.
Representatives and certain members of a designated FTO can be denied visas or excluded from the United States.
U.S. financial institutions must block funds of designated FTOs and their agents and must report the blockage to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
A senior State Department official noted that this is the first time a group with "heavy ties" to the United States -- with "sympathizers and supporters" coming from the United States -- has been designated as a terrorist organization. But, in the words of this official, the "British and Irish government publicly asked us to look into this."
A second State Department official pointed out that Irish nationalists have typically received the most support from South Boston, New York and Chicago, where there are heavy concentrations of Irish Americans.
According to the State Department Patterns of Global Terrorism in 2000 report, the Real IRA was formed in February-March 1998, has between 150-200 hard-line members and is "dedicated to removing British forces from Northern Ireland and unifying Ireland."
The State Department report goes on to accuse the Real IRA of carrying out the bombing of Hammersmith Bridge and a rocket attack against MI-6 headquarters in London last year.
The "rigorous" review, begun last fall, included volumes of evidence and was an inner-agency process that required the signature of the secretary of the treasury, the attorney general and the secretary of state.
State Department officials say they "absolutely" anticipate the Real IRA to challenge the FTO designation in court.
The designation comes as the Irish Republic is getting ready to prosecute Michael McKevitt, the Real IRA's alleged leader.
Other designated FTOs include 29 organizations: the Abu Nidal group, the Abu Sayyaf group, the Palestine Liberation Front, al-Qaida and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, to name a few.
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