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U.S. set to ban Real IRA

Omagh bomb
Devastation in Omagh by a car bomb that killed 29  

LONDON, England -- The United States is expected to outlaw a dissident republican group believed to have carried out Northern Ireland's worst recent bombing atrocity.

British officials have lobbied for the group to be added to the U.S. State Department's list of "foreign terrorist organisations," a Northern Ireland Office spokesman told CNN.

The Real IRA split from the mainstream Irish Republican Army in 1997 and is believed to be behind the August 1998 car bomb attack in Omagh that killed 29 people.

The move, expected to be announced on Wednesday, would freeze the group's U.S. assets, make fund-raising for it illegal, and mean supporters would be refused visas.

The expected move came as British authorities feared an upsurge in terrorist activity in mainland Britain ahead of the general election.

The Real IRA has been blamed for several recent bombings in London, including a massive blast at the BBC's London television studios in which one bystander was injured.

Unlike the IRA, which is under ceasefire and consequently not banned by the U.S., the Real IRA opposes the 1998 Good Friday Agreement on which the current peace process is based.

However, republican political party Sinn Fein -- the IRA's political arm -- said a ban would be counter-productive.

A Sinn Fein spokesman told CNN: "The U.S. is one of the mainstays of the Northern Ireland peace process and will no doubt continue to be so under President (George W.) Bush, but it should concentrate on showing dissident republicans that the way forward is through politics.

"This kind of legislation has never stopped groups before, and outlawing an organisation could risk making it more attractive to young people."

But the UK's national Daily Telegraph newspaper quoted Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble as saying: "It is quite remarkable that the organisation responsible for the largest single atrocity in Ireland in 30 years has not been listed as terrorist."

Just hours after a failed mortar bomb attack on a British Army base near the Irish border, relatives of those who died at Omagh said they believed an announcement by the State Department was imminent.

Victor Barker, whose son James was among those killed in the Omagh explosion, told the Press Association news agency: "They are being banned because they are a terrorist organisation. Remember, they kill little children," he said.

No one was hurt in the latest attack in Northern Ireland, which security sources told PA was probably the work of the Real IRA.

• U.S. State Department
• Northern Ireland Office

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