To Catch Bombers, Ireland Unveils 'Extremely Draconian' Measures

Northern Ireland's worst bomb atrocity this century is having a delayed-action effect: It is exploding in the face of the perpetrators.

The renegade "real" IRA, which admitted killing 28 civilians and wounding more than 300 in the town of Omagh last Saturday, is coming under intense public and government pressure to cease operations and disband.

On Wednesday the outrage triggered the unveiling of what Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern called "extremely Draconian" anti-terrorist measures by his government. They seem certain to be approved by an emergency session of the Dublin parliament to be held in two weeks.

The main measures include:

* Permitting the seizure of property, including land, which has been used for stockpiling bombs and other weapons.

* Extending the right of police to detain terrorist suspects for questioning from 48 to 72 hours.

* Withdrawing the right of terrorist suspects to remain silent under questioning and allowing police to draw conclusions from a suspect's silence.

* Making the directing of an unlawful organization, training persons in the use of firearms or explosives, and withholding information concerning terrorist actions, criminal offenses.

Mr. Ahern said detention without trial of known terrorists was "not ruled out." Existing Irish law would permit this.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair supported Ahern's actions. "The measures announced by the Irish government indicate they are being true to their word," he said in a statement released yesterday. "There is unprecedented cooperation between our two governments as we take our plans forward."

The British government is pledging to take comparably severe measures against groups that violate the Northern Ireland ceasefire - and to cooperate with police in the Irish Republic in implementing them. Northern Ireland police sources say unspecified electronic surveillance equipment will be used by security forces in border areas in a bid to halt cross-border terrorist operations.

Public opinion on both sides of the province's religious divide appears united in the belief that the "real" IRA must be wiped out.

In a highly unusual move, David Trimble, Northern Ireland's Protestant first minister, attended funerals of Catholic victims of the bombing on Wednesday. Mixed congregations of Protestants and Catholics attended church services for several of the blast victims. Mr. Trimble later traveled to Dublin and, after a briefing by Ahern on the new security measures, announced that he was "satisfied" with the steps being taken.

After his talks with the Irish premier, Trimble said the British government should restore internment without trial to the statute book. Sources close to Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, Mo Mowlam, say this is unlikely to happen. In the early 1980s, several jailed suspects starved themselves to death in a Belfast prison in protest against their internment.

Just across the Northern Ireland border, residents of Dundalk, where police say the "real" IRA has an operational base, say they resent being associated with Saturday's outrage. Some shopkeepers are refusing to serve customers thought to be linked to the terrorist group.

Yesterday, Dublin's Irish Times newspaper reported that the people of Dundalk were expressing outrage at the continued operation of a shop run by Michael McKevitt, the group's alleged leader, and his partner, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, vice-chairwoman of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement which has close links to the "real" IRA.

Sources within the group, which broke away from the main Irish Republican Army last October, concede that the bomb attack was a huge political blunder. Mr. McKevitt has gone into hiding, and the group has announced immediate suspension of its "military activities."

An attempt on Tuesday by the terrorists to "apologize" for the attack evoked widespread anger. Ms. Mowlam called it "an insult to the people of Omagh" and "a pathetic attempt to excuse mass murder."

As hostility towards the "real" IRA intensified, political analysts said it would be surprising if the group - believed to number less than 100 - could withstand the pressure. Henry Patterson, professor of politics at the University of Ulster, said: "I think Omagh has been terminal for them."

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