27 December 2013
Al-Qaeda attack on Chinese ship uncovers IRA smuggling racket
An attack by Islamist militants on a Chinese cargo ship has unveiled a massive smuggling racket by Irish gangs consisting of former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as Provisional IRA. The revelation has inflamed existing tensions between Irish Republican militants linked to Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA and a host of smuggling gangs operating on the border areas that connect the Irish state with Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
The smuggling case was originally unearthed back in July of this year, when a group of militants linked to al-Qaeda fired two rocket-propelled grenades at Cosco Asia, a Hong Kong-registered Chinese commercial vessel, which is one of the world's largest cargo ships.
The attack, which occurred as the ship was sailing through the Suez Canal, shook the maritime-security world at the time, as it illustrated the rising lawlessness of the Sinai Peninsula following the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt.
Ironically, the attack literally blew the lid off a complex smuggling operation. Specifically, one of the RPG rockets struck a container that, according to the ship's manifest, was supposed to contain furniture. Inspectors who examined the damaged container, however, found that it was full of packets of cigarettes, which were destined to a company in County Louth, Ireland.
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the firm didn't exist, but was rather a front company for a smuggling gang operating in the Irish borderlands.
Shipping inspectors contacted the Gardai, Ireland's police force, as well as customs officials in Dundalk, Ireland, who proceeded to seize the cargo in September. A subsequent police investigation found that the smuggled cigarettes, which had an estimated street value of $4.3 million, had been purchased by 'a consortium' of IRA-linked factions operating in County Louth.
In a new report published last weekend, Ireland's Independent on Sunday said that the same gangs who were behind the failed smuggling operation are also involved in laundering diesel fuel throughout South Armagh in Northern Ireland. Additionally, the newspaper said that the failure of the smuggling operation has inflamed existing tensions between the smuggling gangs and the Provisional IRA.
The latter has traditionally controlled the Irish border regions, and sometimes tolerates minor smuggling activity by gangs, in exchange for a share of the profits. But the IRA's decommissioning in recent years has scaled back the IRA's punitive strength in the area, allowing smuggling gangs to become 'increasingly rich', says The Independent.
The paper cites unnamed 'Gardai sources', who claim that several gangs are now openly defying the IRA and refusing to pay protection to the leading militant organization of the Irish republican movement. Meanwhile, three suspects linked to the smuggling operation have been released on bail, while a file containing the police findings has been sent to the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions.