UK fears Irish republican group has forged terror links with Hezbollah

New IRA political wing opened a book of condolences for Qassem Suleimani in January

FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Lebanon's Hezbollah gestures as he holds a Hezbollah flag in Marjayoun, Lebanon May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher//File Photo
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Violent Irish republican terrorists are seeking to forge new alliances with Middle East terrorist groups including Hezbollah, according to an intelligence briefing on a deepening relationship after years of collaboration over tactics and ambitions.

An undercover operation found that representatives of the New IRA, the largest of the dissident groups that emerged after a 1998 peace deal, had been in touch with Hezbollah since 2017 in an apparent effort to source new arms, according to newspaper reports in the UK.

Republicans were reported to have travelled to Lebanon to meet Iran-backed Hezbollah. One report said the meeting came before the New IRA were suspected to have secured weapons from an as yet unidentified party.

The New IRA is the largest of splinter groups that emerged after the deal and has been blamed for sporadic acts of violence including the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in 2019. A man has been charged with her murder.

The website of the group’s political wing, Saoradh, supports the causes of Palestine and the campaign for independence by Catalonia from Spain. Members of the group reportedly signed a book of condolence to mark the death of Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani in a US air strike in January.

“The fact is that Hezbollah operatives and associates have built up ties to a variety of criminal and militant organisations around the world, including in Europe,” said Dr Matthew Levitt, an expert on counterterrorism and intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Several US sting operations, in which Hezbollah operatives believed they were doing business with the FARC or other militant groups that do not share their ideology, show that the group is perfectly willing to do such business – including arms sales.”

The arrests were based on information gathered by Dennis McFadden, an agent for MI5, the UK’s domestic security agency, who spied on dissident republicans before he was exposed last month. Mr McFadden, who was a member of the national executive of the group’s political wing, is now believed to be in protective custody.

Ten people from the group, including a Palestinian doctor, were arrested last month in a major police and security service operation to tackle the group blamed for the murder of a journalist and racketeering operations. The operation followed meetings between some of the suspects that culminated “in the relationship with foreign governments being progressed”, according to the BBC.

The arrests were part of an operation called “Arbacia” involving MI5 and police in Scotland, Ireland and in London. Eight men and two women have been charged with 39 offences including directing terrorism and membership of a proscribed organisation.

Police said it was a long-running operation that “will look into every aspect of the activities of the New IRA in its entirety”.

A former British military intelligence officer said that the New IRA was the latest iteration of movement that was part of a “terrorist club around the world” that would share smuggling routes, training and methods.

“The links are logical in trying to get funding, weapons systems and where possible work together if they can – even if they are not politically aligned in any way shape or form,” said Philip Ingram.

The New IRA came to prominence after the three-decade armed struggle for a united Ireland. Its predecessor, the Provisional IRA agreed to hand over its weapons as part of a political deal to end the conflict in 1998.