LONDON, May 15 (UPI) -- A senior leader of the Irish Republican Army, on parole from a 24-year sentence for possession of a car bomb, traveled to Colombia to meet Marxist terrorists being trained by the IRA in exchange for drug money, a London newspaper reported Wednesday.
The Daily Telegraph identified the IRA chieftain as Padraig Wilson, and it quoted a key British diplomatic source as saying, "You don't get much more senior than Wilson. This came right from the top."
According to the report, the IRA for the past five years has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC as payment for helping FARC guerrillas perfect their terrorist techniques.
It said its investigation revealed that Wilson, who was freed from Northern Ireland's Maze prison in 1999 under terms of the Good Friday peace agreement in the province, had flown to Bogota, then on to Vicente del Caguan in FARC-controlled territory in April 2001 to meet guerrilla leaders.
The Telegraph said its investigation in Bogota and Washington had uncovered a FARC agent who claimed to have seen James Monaghan, a convicted IRA explosives expert, in Colombia unloading boxes of missiles from a private plane two years ago.
According to the London newspaper, Wilson was accompanied on his trip to meet FARC leaders by Monaghan and Niall Connolly, the Cuba-based representative of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm. Connolly and Monaghan were arrested last August in Bogota when they tried to board a plane to Paris, and are in jail awaiting trial on charges of training FARC guerrillas.
"The presence of such a high-ranking IRA man as Wilson in Colombia is powerful evidence that training activities were authorized by the terrorist group's top leadership," the Telegraph report said. It added the FARC paid the IRA with money repeated from its illegal drugs industry.
Wilson had been sentenced to 24 years in prison for possession of a car bomb but has served only one-third of that term when he was released under provisions of the Good Friday agreement aimed at ending fighting between republican and loyalist paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, a key loyalist paramilitary chief and enemy of the IRA, Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, was freed from jail in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, and security forces immediately expressed concern that his release could exacerbate troubles in Belfast, where Protestant and Roman Catholic mobs have clashed repeatedly in recent nights.
Adair had also been released under terms of the Good Friday agreement but was sent back to jail to finish his sentence for directing terrorism after he was arrested during a shooting war between rival loyalist gangs in which several men were killed two years ago.
"We will be watching him like a hawk," one security source told reporters. "Because of his behavior, you have to ask if he has changed."
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he had "mixed views" about Adair's release, despite claims by a spokesman for the latter than "the nationalists have nothing to fear from Johnny Adair," who "will be a force for good in this province."
"I just hope," Adams said, "that the Adair release does not make the difficulties in the peace process any worse."