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RIRA BOSS FOUND GUILTY: Michael McKevitt will feel some of what we felt.. his children have lost a father, you make your bed, you lie in it - OMAGH BOMB WIDOWER LAURENCE RUSH YESTERDAY.

Byline: NIALL MOONAN

THE man who masterminded the making of the Omagh bomb was last night facing life in jail.

Michael McKevitt, who set up the Real IRA, was found guilty of directing terrorism yesterday on the word of a paid FBI agent who risked his life to give evidence.

McKevitt, 53, will be sentenced today at the Special Criminal Court - and he could get the maximum life sentence.

Relatives of the Omagh atrocity's victims welcomed the verdict.

Heartbroken Laurence Rush, whose wife Elizabeth was killed as she served customers in the Co Tyrone market town, said: "Now Michael McKevitt will feel some of what we felt. His children have lost a father. You make your bed, you lie in it."

As he walked from court he told the world's media he was "very, very happy" with the decision - just more than a week before the fifth anniversary of his wife's death.

He added: "I'm delighted. The State has been vindicated. We're now waiting for him to be sentenced.

"All I can say is that he should get a sentence tantamount to the sentence he has given us, my children and my wife.

"I suppose she'd be happy today.

"I applaud the judges. It's been a really long five years and it still hasn't ended. I'm happy for the people of Omagh, they have been traumatised, and I'm happy for my children, the families of the other victims and everyone who was injured."

Mr Rush said that while the fight for justice continued, he now had a "lighter load" to carry. Above all, families now had hope to continue the legal fight against the murderers who robbed them of their loved ones.

But he admitted there was a chance the bombers might never be caught.

Mr Rush added: "It's common knowledge that intelligence and security services have infilitrated all the main paramilitary organisations, including the dissidents.

"But there has never been the political will in London or Dublin to resolve this crime."

McKevitt had refused to attend the hearing and would not even come from his cell to hear the verdict despite two requests from the judge.

During the trial the court heard how McKevitt told FBI agent David Rupert that the Real IRA had made the car bomb that killed 29 people and unborn twins and handed it over to another dissident terror group who chose Omagh as the target.

He said that his gang were 20 per cent responsible.

Among the victims' families in court to hear the verdict yesterday was Surrey solicitor Victor Barker whose 12-year-old son James was killed in the blast.

He said: "This judgment is a great step forward in our fight for justice for those who were murdered in Omagh.

"McKevitt sadly was not convicted of the Omagh bombing but we now know what we suspected all along.

"He is a terrorist, a man who has the blood of innocent people on his hands, and he was planning even more murder and mayhem.

"This judgment bolsters our deter- mination to see our civil legal action against the real IRA through to court and that case is growing stronger and stronger. All five men on our writ have been charged with terrorist offences but no one has yet been tried for the bombing of Omagh, an act that destroyed our lives and scarred the community.

"Now we will not have to prove in court that McKevitt is a terrorist. This court decision proves that for us.

"The net is closing on the Omagh bombers. Having come this far we cannot let them get away."

Mr Barker said it was obscene for McKevitt to talk about 20 per cent responsibility. He added: "If you make a bomb and hand it over to other people to do what they will with it you are as guilty as them.

"McKevitt and the people who made that bomb are 100 per cent guilty of the worst terrorist atrocity in the United Kingdom."

Mr Barker said the campaigning families were weary and that they faced obstacles from police and government in their fight for justice.

He added: "If Tony Blair had kept his promise to us that he would pursue the killers to the ends of the earth we would not be here now, still struggling to have the truth made public." The families also praised Rupert's courage in coming forward to give evidence.

The failed businessman was paid more than $1.25million dollars by the FBI to report back on the activities of dissident republican groups in Ireland.

It was his evidence about the 20 meetings he had with McKevitt that sealed the terror chief's fate.

Rupert, asked by McKevitt to buy arms and to raise funds in the States, is living with his wife under a new identity, still under the tightest security at a secret location. And Michael Gallagher, whose two-year-old son Aidan was among the victims, said: "It was his courage in coming forward that has put this man behind bars.

"I hope others will follow his example and allow all those involved in the Omagh bomb to be convicted of that atrocity.

"McKevitt and some of his sidekicks are in prison and I would appeal to anyone with information to come forward now.

"This verdict does not make it easier for any of the families to bear their grief but now that it has happened we hope that the tide has turned in our favour."

The three judges, sitting without a jury, also found McKevitt guilty of membership of an illegal organisation, a finding that can be made solely on the word of a senior police officer.

But they relied on Rupert's evidence to make the first ever conviction in the Republic for directing terrorism - an offence created after the Omagh bomb.

Rupert faced a fierce cross-examination from McKevitt's lawyers for 11 days before the Real IRA leader dismissed his legal team.

In their judgment the judges said: "He has considerable knowledge of the facts to which he testified and he spoke with authority.

"He was a paid agent of the FBI, not an informer or a supergrass and he was entitled to receive the sums of money he was offered under contract.

"It would have been tempting not to testify and it was not money but viewing a programme about the Omagh bomb and his own moral code that persuaded him to do so.

"We find that David Rupert is a truthful and reliable witness."

They pointed out that McKevitt was convicted of directing terrorism during the period that Rupert had dealings with him - August 1999 to October 2000 - a period that did not include the Omagh bomb.

But police listed other Real IRA attacks including bombs at Hammersmith Bridge, Ealing Broadway and army and police bases in Northern Ireland that did.

CAPTION(S):

DEVASTATION: Market Street in Omagh after the bombing; KEY WITNESS: Artist's impression of FBI spy David Rupert, left, giving evidence; VICTORY: Omagh Victims Support Group yesterday outside Special Criminal Court
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 7, 2003
Words:1171
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