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Copyright 1990 Newspaper Publishing PLC  
The Independent (London)

February 10, 1990, Saturday


LENGTH: 719 words

HEADLINE: Alleged IRA gunrunner linked to US 'race killings'



THE US authorities are investigating a possible link between an alleged IRA gunrunner and the mail Bomb deaths of a federal judge and a black civil rights lawyer.

The case is causing considerable alarm among republican sympathisers in America, who have been patiently building alliances with black activists and others. They want Americans to see Northern Ireland as human rights issue, rather than a sectarian struggle.

But Sean McGuffin, a lawyer in another IRA arms case described speculation by federal officials about a possible link as ''classic disinformation''.

In December, a federal judge, Robert Vance, of the 11th Circuit, was killed by a package containing a pipe Bomb at his home. Shortly afterwards, Robert Robinson, a black lawyer and city councillor in Savannah, Georgia, was killed by a similar device. prompting fears in the Deep South that a racially motivated killer had targeted judges and civil rights activists.

Last month, more than 100 FBI agents descended on the Alabama town of Enterprise (pop 18,000), hoping to find leads in the postal bombings.

Since then, the bombing investigation has focused on Robert Wayne O'Ferrell, a junk dealer from Enterprise. An FBI agent noticed similarities between typed letters claiming responsibility for the bombings and typed documents Mr O'Ferrell had filed with the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, while appealing on a ruling against him in a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal against an insurance company.

It is alleged that Mr O'Ferrell's letters to the court were written on the same manual typewriter that the mail bomber used for follow-up letters. After his home and land was searched by the FBI, who did not find the typewriter, Mr O'Ferrell said: ''I don't believe there is a typewriter. We've used approximately four typewriters in the four-year period I worked on this . . . case.''

There are also unconfirmed reports that the FBI asked Scotland Yard Bomb experts for an opinion on the make-up of the US pipe bombs. In mid January, another Enterprise man, Brian Joseph Fleming, and a Californian, Charles ''Chuck'' Malone, were charged in Montgomery, Alabama, with conspiring illegally to export between 50 and 100 M-16 machine guns, Armalite rifles and night vision goggles. The weapons were to be sent to Ireland using trans-shipment points in Panama and Africa.

Federal agents at first denied any link between the postal killings and the gunrunning case. Gene Barrow, supervisor of the federal firearms bureau, then said: ''The FBI might be working on a possible connection, is all I know.'' The following day an anonymous federal agent said: ''We have found a possible link.''

Just why the authorities should be speculating publicly on a putative link between the two cases is unclear. Mr O'Ferrell and Mr Fleming are known to each other. But far from being associated with right-wing supremacist groups, Mr Fleming was until recently a paid-up member of America's major black civil rights movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Until two years ago, Mr Fleming's wife, Georgia, published a radical left-wing newsletter on Irish republicanism. Both were apparently supporters of the now defunct Irish Republican Socialist Party and its military wing, the INLA.

Mr O'Ferrell denies any involvement in the bombings and has been co- operating with the FBI. He is adamant that he has no links to or knowledge about Irish republicanism or the IRA.

He has admitted to knowing Mr Fleming, and having printing work done by him. Mr Fleming gave blood, hair and saliva samples under court order on Wednesday as part of the investigation into the bombings.

The arms smuggling case follows a 33-month undercover investigation of Mr Fleming and Mr Malone, 67, an eccentric San Francisco republican, who was decribed as an arms expert.

He was convicted on gunrunning charges in 1973, when he was a leader of a San Francisco Fianna unit - the rough equivalent of an IRA scout troop. His name surfaced in phone transcripts last year when the FBI broke up an IRA plot to develop radar guided missiles in America for use against army helicopters in Northern Ireland. He was not charged in the missile case. Both he and Mr Fleming pleaded not guilty in the Alabama case and are now free on bail.