DUBLIN, IRELAND — DUBLIN, Ireland - Ireland's antiterrorism court yesterday convicted the head of the Real IRA, Michael McKevitt, for leading the republican guerrilla group that carried out a 1998 car-bomb attack in Omagh, Northern Ireland, killing 29 people.
McKevitt, 53, was found guilty of directing terrorism, a crime introduced by the Irish parliament after the bombing. He did not face charges specifically related to the attack because the state's evidence related only to a period starting in 1999.
He faces life in prison at his sentencing today but has requested leave to appeal the verdict. McKevitt has been in prison since his arrest in 2001, and the appeal process could take two more years.
The five-week trial, before three judges without a jury, concluded faster than expected because McKevitt protested what he called a "show trial" by firing his lawyers and refusing to defend himself, or even to leave his cell to attend the proceedings.
Prosecution lawyers were forced to rely exclusively on the evidence of one man, an FBI informer, David Rupert, from upstate New York. Rupert, a former trucking industry executive, met McKevitt in 1999 after infiltrating Irish republican circles for several years. Defense attorneys tried to discredit Rupert, 51, during cross-examination by investigating his complicated history of debt and failed businesses.
McKevitt is the highest-ranking paramilitary to be convicted here in recent years, and the verdict is a triumph for the Irish government, which has been frustrated in its efforts to chase down the Omagh killers.
The failure to bring anyone to justice for the killings has been a continuing embarrassment for the police in Ireland and Northern Ireland, in particular since a report by Northern Ireland's police ombudsman last year found that Britain's special intelligence division neglected to convey warnings about the attack to the local police.
Only one man has been convicted in relation to the bombing, for assisting the bombers by lending them cell phones.