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Friends defend man held in Israel


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JERUSALEM -- A man being held in Israel as a suspected terrorist is not a bomb-maker, according to his editor at an Irish-language newspaper.

Ciaran O Pronntaigh, editor of the La newspaper, said on Monday he had learned that the man arrested in the West Bank on suspicion of helping Palestinian militants was reporter Sean O Muireagain, 40, from Belfast.

O Muireagain had been in Israel for three weeks and submitted his first article about conditions in the Palestinian town of Jenin, O Pronntaigh said.

"He is not what they are talking about, being a master bomber," O Pronntaigh told The Associated Press.

"We were going to ask him today, did he know anything about the Irishman that had been arrested? And we found out later that it was him," he said.

The Press Association quoted unidentified British security sources in Northern Ireland as saying they had not identified O Muireagain as a member of the Irish Republican Army or one of its dissident offshoots.

Friends in Northern Ireland said O Muireagain was a Palestinian activist with no known links to terrorism.

"It's preposterous. We believe this is mistaken identity. They've picked up an Irishman, he's from Belfast, and maybe they've put two and two together and got 16," Kathleen Connell, secretary of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Belfast, told Reuters.

The man held -- Israeli officials have yet to reveal his identity -- was arrested at a road block south of Ramallah in the West Bank Saturday. An Israeli security official told CNN he was a one-time member of the IRA and was wanted by Israeli authorities.

IRA members are frequently linked to militant groups, and some Roman Catholic neighborhoods in Northern Ireland -- as well as the Republic of Ireland -- fly the Palestinian flag alongside Irish ones, with slogans daubed on walls.

Three alleged IRA-linked members are currently on trial in Colombia accused of training Marxist rebels in terrorist techniques.

The UK Foreign Office told CNN Monday that it had confirmed with Israeli authorities that a male British citizen was detained on July 12. They have been unable to confirm any other details.

Israeli media reports said he was arrested on suspicion that he was in West Bank to teach Palestinian terrorists how to improve the effectiveness of their explosive devices -- an accusation he denied, according to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

Sajjan Gohel, director for international security at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, told CNN that British, as well as Israeli, security forces are becoming concerned about a possible British radical connection with Palestinian militants.

British and Irish newspapers reported over the weekend that Israeli security forces were seeking an IRA dissident said to be training Palestinian militants in bomb-making and helping the 33-month-old intifada.

Although the three main Palestinian groups, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, declared a unilateral cease-fire on June 29, some smaller Palestinian factions have not signed up.

The arrest came just ahead of a visit to London visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. (Full story)


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