The plot Lithuanian authorities allege Co Louth farmer and convicted terrorist Liam Campbell was part of would prove fertile ground for a John le Carré novel. It starts, as many Irish terrorism stories do, in “bandit country” before winding its way to a secretly recorded meeting in a lock-up garage in Vilnius via southern England, Marbella, MI5, Lithuanian’s security service the VSD and the Garda.
At its centre is a shadowy figure linking all of the actors, a man known as Robert Jardine but whose real identity we will never know. Jardine was a businessman based in the south of England working in import-export. He had an illegal sideline in smuggled cigarettes that brought him into contact with paramilitaries based in Louth and south Armagh.
This Irish group, the Lithuanians allege, included Liam Campbell (59), a married father of two from Upper Faughart, Dundalk, and a founder member of the Real IRA who was one of four men held liable for the 1998 Omagh bomb in a landmark civil action taken by the victims’ families. That bombing, by the dissident terror group Campbell helped found in 1997 to continue directing terrorism after the Provisional IRA ceasefire, killed 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins.
Jardine’s involvement in cigarette smuggling, and that trade’s funding of republican terrorism, caught the eye of MI5. It recruited him in 2002 as a tool for gathering intelligence about dissidents. Just two years after MI5 began cultivating Jardine, it is alleged that he was asked by the Real IRA to use his organised crime sources in Lithuania to source weapons and explosives for it.
In January 2005 he gave them a price list of weapons and explosives written in Cyrillic script. Six months later, in July 2005, Jardine went on a business trip to Poland and travelled over the border into Lithuania with an alleged Real IRA contact.
The purpose of that trip was for Jardine to introduce the contact to his people in Lithuania and demonstrate that the weapons and explosives the Irish terrorists wanted could be arranged for them. However, Jardine’s contact “Tomas” was in fact a member of the Lithuanian security service, the VSD, posing an arms dealer.
The Irish terrorists responded by presenting a handwritten shopping list of the items it wanted: sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, hand grenades, detonators and Semtex plastic explosive. The transaction went cold until about 18 months later when Real IRA man Séamus McGreevy, since deceased, reached out to Jardine looking to revive the deal.
The Lithuanians alleged that in August 2007 Liam Campbell’s brother Michael and another person travelled from Ireland to Lithuanian to test the merchandise, particularly the RPGs. At a lodge deep in the Lithuanian countryside the Irish men met a man they believed was an arms dealer and whom they referred to as “Rambo”. But he was really working for the Lithuania security services.
The Lithuanians alleged that Michael Campbell was acting on the orders of Liam Campbell, who they say was one of the key figures at the top of the Real IRA, all of which the Campbells deny. It is alleged that, acting on the orders of Liam Campbell, Michael Campbell and his associate agreed to pay a €5,000 deposit on a consignment that included explosives and detonators.
Three months later, in October 2007, it is alleged “Rambo” met a group of Real IRA men in Marbella, Spain, to advance the next stage of the deal; taking delivery of two RPGs and explosives. In January 2008, Michael Campbell travelled in Vilnius and when meeting with the arms dealers – really the Lithuanian security services – in a lock-up in Vilnius he was recorded asking if the detonators would be good for booby traps and under car bombs.
Michael Campbell was arrested that day in Vilnius and held in prison on remand for almost four years. He was eventually convicted in September, 2011, and sentenced to 12 years in prison for weapons offences and supporting a terrorist group. He had admitted he was buying the arsenal. But he claimed he intended to sell it to criminals and that he was encouraged into it by MI5, via Jardine, and the Lithuanian security services, with the involvement of the Irish authorities. He denied he was ever in the Real IRA.
Two years later, having been in prison in Lithuania for almost six years since his arrest, his conviction was quashed. An appeal court found the prosecution failed to prove Campbell was in the Real IRA and failed to sufficiently disprove Campbell’s assertion he was entrapped from the outset by MI5 and the Lithuanian and Irish authorities.
While they had Michael Campbell under arrest, the Lithuanian authorities also issued European arrest warrants for his older brother, Liam Campbell, and other people. That extradition process against Liam Campbell was approved yesterday by a five-judge Supreme Court in Dublin.
Liam Campbell has been mired in republican violence since he joined the Provisional IRA as a teenager. He comes from a family with a history of involvement in paramilitarism.
In 1976 his brother, Sean Campbell (20), was one of two Provisional IRA men killed when a landmine they were handling, for an attack on the British army, prematurely exploded at Killeen, Co Armagh. Another brother, Peter Campbell, served 14 years in prison for IRA offences.
As director of operations for the Real IRA, Liam Campbell has spent much of the past 20 years in prison, either under sentence or on remand.
While serving a prison sentence in Northern Ireland in October 2009, he was moved off the republican wing in Maghaberry Prison for his own safety after being ousted from the leadership of the Real IRA in favour of a young, Derry-based group.
It was immediately after his release in 2006, from a prison sentence for Real IRA membership, that the Lithuanian authorities alleged he began plotting from Ireland to source a huge cache of arms in Lithuania to resume a terrorist campaign in Ireland and Britain.
The Lithuanians have sought to prosecute him on three offences: preparation of a crime, illegal possession of firearms and terrorism. They say he “made arrangements” for the weapons deal and provided money for it.
He faces up to 20 years in prison in Lithuania if convicted there.