Thursday, January 31, 2008

Irish fugitive found at U.S. checkpoint

SARITA — U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested a man Monday at the Sarita checkpoint who fled a Northern Irish prison in an infamous escape 24 years ago, the agency said.

The man, whose name Border Patrol refused to release late Wednesday night, is expected to soon be transferred to British custody. Reportedly a member of the Irish Republican Army, the man is accused of making a violent escape from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland in September 1983 along with 38 other IRA members.

He was arrested at the Sarita checkpoint outside of Brownsville on Monday after he was unable to provide valid immigration documents. Agents did a background check through an international fingerprint system, which identified the man as having escaped from the prison.

The Maze, the maximum-security prison from which he reportedly escaped, was home to some of the most notorious killers and bombers of the more than three-decades-long armed struggle against Britain to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic.

On Sept. 25, 1983, one prison guard was killed and another injured when 38 IRA inmates used smuggled guns and knives to overpower prison security personnel, according to news reports of the incident.

Numerous terrorist attacks, and occasionally street warfare, killed more than 3,500 people during the more than 30 years of fighting between pro-Irish independence groups, such as the IRA, and British nationalist sympathizers. But since 1998, significant steps have been taken toward peace and the violence has all but ceased.

Britain retains control of Northern Ireland in an elaborate power-sharing scheme with Irish separatist groups.

Some former members of the groups have moved into national politics, including Gerry Adams, a former inmate at Maze who is now the president of the Sinn Fein party — the former political wing of the IRA. Adams was imprisoned at Maze in the early 1970s for his activities with the IRA. He is now a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Sean Gaffney covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4434

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