Monday, September 27

Northern Ireland: 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 could have been prevented, UK court says

A court in Northern Ireland has said that British authorities could have prevented the Omagh bombing in 1998.

The judges have ordered the UK and the Republic of Ireland to launch an investigation into the car bomb that killed 29 people.

Supreme Court Justice Mark Horner said investigations were necessary to determine whether a more “proactive” security approach could have thwarted the attack.

Another 220 were injured in the car bombing of August 15, 1998, which took place on a small shopping street in the town of Omagh, Northern Ireland.

The car bomb in Omagh was carried out by the group calling itself the Royal Irish Republican Army (Royal IRA), but no one has been held criminally responsible for the attack.

Among the victims of the explosion are a woman pregnant with twins and many young people, including two Spanish tourists.

The bombing was the worst atrocity of the Troubles, a three-decade conflict that involved Irish Republicans, loyal British paramilitaries and UK troops.

But judges found on Friday there were “plausible” claims that “there was a real possibility of preventing the Omagh bombing.”

“I am convinced that certain grounds, when considered separately or together, give rise to plausible charges that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing,” Horner told the Belfast court.

“These grounds imply the consideration of terrorist activity on both sides of the border by prominent dissident terrorist Republicans that led to the Omagh bomb.”

The case was brought eight years ago by Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the blast.

Gallagher had challenged the British government’s refusal to conduct a public inquiry into the bombing.

He claimed that the attack could have been prevented if British security agents and Royal Ulster Police officers had combined their intelligence on dissident groups in the republic.

Two anonymous calls had raised the alarm 40 minutes before the bomb exploded, but police claim that the location given for the attack was incorrect.

The UK had argued that a police ombudsman investigation was the best way to address any outstanding issues in the Omagh attack. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the government would wait to review the full decision before deciding how to proceed.

“We recognize [what] the court has ruled today … and that more must be done to investigate this, “Lewis said in a statement issued after the ruling.

“The UK government will take some time to carefully consider the judge’s statement and all his recommendations while we wait for the full sentence to be published.”

The Belfast judges noted that they had no authority to compel Republic of Ireland officials to conduct their own investigation, but said a parallel investigation across the border would be a “real advantage”.

Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin has said his government will analyze the ruling and do “whatever is necessary for the citizens of the island of Ireland.”

Earlier this month, the UK government presented a controversial plan to end all prosecutions related to the Northern Ireland conflict, denounced by all parties as an “amnesty”.

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