Explosive Journey



Los Tres Monos [3]

On 11 August 2001, John Joseph Kelly, Edward Joseph Campbell and David Bracken were detained in Bogotá's El Dorado airport while attempting to leave Colombia (Appeals Court sentence, p. 2). [4] On the basis of intelligence from former guerrillas, the three men were suspected of being IRA explosives experts hired by FARC to provide military training to their fighters. The three admitted that their real names were Martin John McCauley, James William Monaghan and Niall Connolly, respectively, and that they had arrived from San Vicente del Caguán, an area under rebel control that had previously been liberated and demilitarised for the peace negotiations. The military police officer Captain Wber Pulido arrested the trio and handed them over to the Colombian courts (18).

After the preliminary investigation, the public prosecutor charged them of conducting training for illegal activities and travelling on false passports, charges that were denied by the defendants in their pre-trial depositions of 14 and 15 August 2001. The three men added that they were visiting the liberated area as tourists and later as observers of the peace process. The Interpol local branch identified McCauley and Monaghan as IRA members and explosives experts, and confirmed that the three men were travelling on passports obtained through fraudulent methods. Tests on explosive substances were performed by the US Embassy expert Anthony M. Hall on the possessions of the three men using General Electric Itemiser technology. The samples tested positive for traces of nitro, tetril, HMX (high melting explosive), TNT, and ammonium nitrate, among other substances (98). On 21 August 2001 the judge remanded the men in custody and on 15 February 2002 they were officially charged by the prosecution.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan portrayed in a mural at Levin Road, Killwilke,
Lurgan, Co. Armagh
(Artist unknown, May 2003,  © Dr. Jonathan McCormick)

Monaghan, McCauley and Connolly (or Los Tres Monos, as they were styled in Colombia) had been seen by witnesses in the FARC-controlled area since 1998 (83-95). Marcos Trujillo Celada saw one of them in August 1998 at Donde Robert with many other persons, among them a FARC commanding officer known as Julián. Giovanni Escobar Polania declared that they had shown FARC combatants a video about explosives in Ireland. John Alexander Rodríguez had seen them carrying out explosives training in late 1998, mid-1999, late 2000 and 2001. Rodríguez added that during their second visit they carried missile launchers with them. Furthermore, the men's passports recorded visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama from July 1999 to April 2001, while their real passports - those issued on their real names - were used to leave Ireland, stopping at Paris and Madrid.

According to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC, now PSNI) officers Garry Ian Clark and Christopher Kenneth Johnson, James Monaghan had been arrested in Ireland for use of explosives and for IRA membership. He had escaped from a Dublin courtroom using an explosive. He was re-arrested, sentenced to ten years, and freed in 1985. Martin McCauley had been arrested in 1994 and sentenced to two years for possession of arms and rocket attacks. He was wounded during the arrest. He was allegedly involved in a murder, though his participation has never been proven. Niall Connolly was Sinn Féin's representative in Cuba. In 2001 he had tried to obtain a false passport in Northern Ireland (55). Captain Pulido and other Colombian officers further stated that as a result of IRA training provided to FARC guerrillas, there had been an increase in terrorist activities, including mortar launching from 1999 to 2004, a technique pioneered in Europe by IRA explosives experts (118).

James William Monaghan [Edward Joseph Campbell] declared that he had been born in Ireland on 9 August 1945 and had worked with the railway as a metallurgic technician. In 1999 he was granted a position with an organisation called Coiste na n-Iarchimí (Ex-Prisoners' Committee), whose primary aim was to help former Republican prisoners to reintegrate into society and to enable them to use their abilities to shape the new society that would emerge from the Irish Peace Process. In 1972 he was arrested in London and given a prison sentence for the use of military equipment. He confirmed that he was also sentenced for placing explosives in a courtroom (73-75). Martin John McCauley [John Joseph Kelly] said he had been born on 1 December 1962 in County Armagh. He admitted that he had been convicted of the use of arms in Ireland and wounded in a fight. He arrived in Bogotá from Paris, in the company of Monaghan, on an Air France flight (75-76). Niall Connolly [David Bracken], born on 5 December 1964, stated that he had worked as a translator and lived in Havana with his partner, a Cuban national, and two children (76-77). He arrived in Bogotá via Madrid and Caracas.

The British explosives expert Keith Borer was called in as a witness for the defence. Although he acknowledged that he was not familiar with FARC techniques, Borer declared that the methods in use by the IRA and FARC were not similar. He analysed the results of the first explosive traces tests and though he recognised that the Itemiser was a very accurate instrument, he added that further tests were negative because the first samples may have been contaminated (107-117).

Other witnesses testified for the defence, including Ross O'Sullivan, Seán Ciarán Ó Domhnaill, Laurence Patrick McKeown, Síle Maguire and Michael McLaren. The testimony of the latter witness ultimately worked in favour of the prosecution as he presented electronically-manipulated videos in an attempt to prove that Monaghan had not been in Colombia at the time that he was charged with training guerrillas in San Vicente del Caguán (126). Further documents included tax payment certificates but there were no records for the periods during which Monaghan had been seen in Colombia. Ultimately, the defence failed to present evidence in the form of notes, interviews or recordings to establish that the three men had been conducting social research on, or studying, the peace process (79).

On 26 April 2004, Bogotá's First Penal Court Judge Jairo Acosta acquitted the three Irishmen of the most serious charge of training for illegal activities which carried a 15-20 year sentence, but sentenced Monaghan to three and half years, McCauley to three years and Connolly to two years for travelling on false passports. They were released on probation while the prosecution appealed the sentence. The appeal was successful at the Appeals Court on 16 December 2004. This court also reversed the acquittal on the charge of training guerrillas, sentencing Niall Connolly and James W. Monaghan to seventeen and a half years each, and ordering them to pay a fine of approximately US$280,000. The Court sentenced John McCauley to seventeen years with a fine of approximately US$217,000. The three men were to be deported from Colombia after they had completed their prison sentences.

However, at the time of the sentencing they were no longer in Colombia as they had jumped bail. In spite of the international arrest warrant issued for Monaghan, McCauley and Connolly, they managed to flee the country and on 15 September 2005 were safely back in Ireland, just eight days after the IRA's historic announcement of its cessation of illegal activity. Shortly after arrival, the three reported to An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force, of their presence in the country. To date, extradition requests from the Colombian government have been unsuccessful and the three men remain at large in Ireland. [5]

It is not the purpose of this article to unearth the actual facts in the history of FARC-IRA relations. Rather I propose to analyse the different discourses which can be read between the lines of relevant documents, interviews and media articles.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 March 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, '
Explosive Journey: Perceptions of Latin America in the FARC-IRA Affair (2001-2005)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 2006. Available online (, accessed .


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