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Profile: The Real IRA

The Real IRA called a ceasefire after the Omagh bombing in 1998
The Real IRA called a ceasefire after the Omagh bombing in 1998  

LONDON, England -- No paramilitary organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the latest London bomb, but the Real IRA has been the only group that has attacked mainland Britain in recent years.

The Real IRA first came to international prominence in August 1998 when it was blamed for Northern Ireland's single worst atrocity: the Omagh bomb that killed 29 people and wounded 200 others.

Q: Who belongs to the Real IRA?

A: According to defence analysts, the Real IRA is a hardline group of between 70 to 170 members dedicated to an armed campaign aimed at driving the British out of Northern Ireland. Its members see themselves as Irish republican purists, accusing the Provisional Irish Republican Army of selling short republican ideals.

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Q: When was the group formed?

A: The Real IRA emerged out of a row in 1997 over a cease-fire called by the Provisional IRA to get Sinn Fein involved in talks that eventually led to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, according to the Press Association.

The dispute came to a head at a convention of Provisional IRA leaders in Gweedore, County Donegal and led to the resignation of its quartermaster general. He left to form the new group and was joined by other disaffected Provisional members, PA reported.

Q: How is the Real IRA run?

A: The Real IRA follows the same basic command structure as the Provisionals with an Army Executive and Council, with the former quartermaster general assuming the role of chief of staff in the new organisation, according to PA.

Q: Where are its strongholds?

A: The Real IRA made its biggest inroads into the Provisionals' Southern Command in the Irish Republic.

Janes' Intelligence Review reported in October 1998 that up to 30 experienced Provisional IRA operators had joined its ranks.

Concentrated in border counties like Louth in the Irish Republic, the group drew support north of the border in areas like South Armagh and made its presence felt in other parts of Northern Ireland in west Belfast and Newry.

The group is also believed to have recruited top Provisional bomb-makers in Dublin, Monaghan and South Armagh. But it also succeeded in bringing new faces into its ranks.

The Provisional IRA continues to command more support in republican areas than the dissident group but there are concerns that the longer the Northern Ireland peace process remains deadlocked, the more support the dissidents will attract.

Q: What has the Real IRA been involved in?

A: The organisation has continued the Provisionals' pre-cease-fire tactic of bomb attacks on security and commercial targets but the latter backfired badly in 1998 with the Omagh atrocity.

The Real IRA was forced to declare a cease-fire in the wake of the Omagh bomb. But despite overwhelming public anger, it managed to survive.

As the peace process stumbled in the wake of the power sharing executive's formation in December 1999, the Real IRA managed to re-establish itself and has returned with attacks in Northern Ireland and London designed to destablise the peace process.

Up until the attack on the BBC's London headquarters in March 2001, its most daring attack was on the MI6 building in September 2000.

Q: How well equipped is the Real IRA?

A: The organisation has sought to fund its activities and the procurement of its weapons through armed robberies, PA reported. The group has sought to purchase weapons from Eastern Europe and in particular, the Balkans, according to PA, with funds raised at home and in the United States. It has also sought support from Libya.

Q: Does the Real IRA have a political wing?

A: The 32 County Sovereignty Committee shares the same political philosophy of the Real IRA, but its members deny it is the political wing of the dissident terror group.

Leading figures include Bernadette Sands McKevitt, a sister of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, and Francie Mackey, a former Sinn Fein councillor in Omagh, according to PA.

• Metropolitan Police

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