"Colombia Three" IRA trio vanish from Colombia after being sentanced to 17 years

The Colombia Three are three individuals – Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley – who are currently living in the Republic of Ireland, having fled from Colombia, where they were sentenced to prison terms of seventeen years for training FARC rebels.

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Arrest

The three came to prominence on 11 August 2001, when they were arrested travelling on false passports at Bogotá International Airport while waiting to transfer to international flights out of the country. The Colombian authorities alleged at the time that they were training FARC rebels and were members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). According to General Fernando Tapias Stahelin, the Colombian authorities were tipped off by "an international security organisation".

Two of the three men, Monaghan and McCauley, had arrived in Colombia on 30 June 2001 on a flight from Belfast, via Paris. Niall Connolly had flown from Dublin, via Madrid, and spent a day in Caracas before making a rendezvous in Bogotá. The three men then spent the next five weeks travelling through a demilitarised southern zone of Colombia, then under the control of the FARC rebels as part of peace talks with the Colombian government. They were arrested as soon as they touched down in Bogotá on a commercial flight on the Saturday night.

Prosecution

After the men's arrest at Bogota airport they were only charged with travelling on false passports, until 15 February 2002 when they were also charged with training FARC rebels in bomb-making.After a number of delays, including a boycott of proceedings by the three accused, the trial opened on 2 December 2002. Following a number of adjournments, the trial closed on 1 August 2003.The trial judge returned a verdict which found the three men guilty of travelling on false passports and they were given varying sentences of up to 44 months. They were found not guilty on the more serious charges relating to training FARC rebels; however, the judge ordered their release upon payment of fines equivalent to £3,800.

Appeal

In accordance with Colombian law, the prosecution had the right to appeal the verdict, which it did. While awaiting appeal, the three men were free to leave jail, but were instructed by a judge to remain within the country. The appeal court overturned the original trial verdict, and convicted the men of training the rebels, sentencing them to seventeen years in jail on 16 December 2004.

Return to Ireland

The day after their conviction, the Colombian Attorney General announced that the men had fled Colombia. On 5 August 2005, following an interview with Monaghan by RTÉ's Charlie Bird, it emerged that the three men had clandestinely returned to Ireland. The three men were subsequently questioned by Gardaí but no moves have been taken in relation to extraditing them to Colombia, despite the existence of an Colombian arrest warrant, since no extradition treaty or agreement exists between Colombia and Ireland.

The Colombia Three

James Monaghan

James William Monaghan was born on 9 August 1945, and is originally from County Donegal but his last known address was in Newry, County Down. In the 1970s he was believed to have been active in the IRA, gaining the nickname 'Mortar' on account of his skill in manufacturing homemade mortars and according to security sources, he is head of the IRA's engineering section.

Monaghan was arrested on terrorist charges in County Donegal in the 1970s. In 1972 he was arrested in London and given a prison sentence for terrorism offences. In 1976, he escaped from the Special Criminal Court in Dublin following a double bomb blast. He was elected to the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle in 1989. According to Alex Maskey, he left Sinn Féin in 1989 or 1990,In 1999 he joined an organisation called Coiste na n-Iarchimí, a Republican ex-prisoners group.He is reported to be a member of the IRA Army Council.

Martin McCauley

Martin McCauley was born on 1 December 1962 in County Armagh.He was shot aged 19 in 1982 by the Royal Ulster Constabulary(RUC) in a barn near Lurgan resulting from which he won a five-figure sum for damages against the RUC. He was unarmed at the time and another teenager was killed. In 1985 he was charged with weapons possession in Northern Ireland and received a two-year suspended sentence.He was a Sinn Féin election worker during assembly elections in the Upper Bann constituency in 1998, but according to Sinn Féin he was not a member of the party. McCauley is regarded as a leading figure in the IRA's engineering section.

Niall Connolly

Niall Connolly was born on 5 December 1964 in Glenageary, County Dublin, and was educated at Newpark Comprehensive School and Trinity College, Dublin. The only one of the three who was a fluent Spanish speaker, he has extensive experience in Latin America having worked there for a number of years. Prior to his arrest, he was resident in Cuba where the Cuban authorities claimed he was the Latin America representative for Sinn Féin. This was initially denied by Sinn Féin, but they later accepted that he had been working in Cuba as a part-time party representative.