Man in court over 29 murders in N. Ireland's Omagh bombing

BELFAST (AFP) - A man appeared in court on Friday charged with the murders of all 29 people killed in the 1998 Omagh bombing, the worst single atrocity of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Seamus Daly, 43, a prominent supporter of the Irish republican cause who has been found liable for the bombing in a civil case, was remanded in custody by a judge at Dungannon Magistrates' Court as police kept guard outside.

No-one has ever been convicted in a criminal court of carrying out the Omagh bombing, which tore through the market town on a busy Saturday afternoon only months after the signing of peace accords which largely ended the three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

However, relatives of some of the victims brought a civil action against five men they claimed were responsible, including Daly.

The Belfast High Court ruled in 2009 that Daly and three of the other four men were responsible and they were later ordered to pay more than £1.6 million (S$3.3 million) in damages to the relatives.

Daly has always denied involvement in the bombing.

He has been charged with 29 counts of murder, two additional offences linked to the Omagh explosion and two linked to an attempted explosion in Lisburn in April 1998.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed at Omagh after he had gone to the town to buy a new pair of jeans, was in court for Daly's appearance.

He said earlier that the victims' families had never given up their fight for justice.

"It has been a long, difficult struggle," he told BBC radio.

"We have put the police, and both the British and Irish governments, under tremendous pressure and we continue to do that and we don't apologise for it.

"We think of the people that we lost - in our case our only son Aiden - and that gives us the strength to carry on."

Some of the relatives believe that the full truth of the events leading up to the attack have never been fully revealed.

They were angry when the British government last year ruled out holding a public inquiry into the circumstances of the bombing.

Acting on a series of conflicting bomb warnings, police had moved shoppers and shop owners into a part of Omagh where a car packed with 225 kg of explosives was parked, unwittingly putting them directly in the path of the huge blast.

A fireball swept from the epicentre of the explosion and shop fronts were blown back on to shoppers inside. The blast was so powerful that some of the victims' bodies were never found.

The Real IRA - which sees itself as the successor to the original paramilitary Irish Republican Army - claimed responsibility for the attack three days later.

Daly appeared in court as Irish President Michael D. Higgins was making a groundbreaking state visit to Britain, the first by an Irish head of state since independence.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, attended a banquet and a reception at Windsor Castle, west of London, during the president's visit, sparking protests from relatives of victims of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Around 3,500 people died in three decades of violence between Protestants favouring continued union with Britain, and Catholics seeking a unified Ireland.

The Omagh bombing was seen as a major test of the fragile peace established by the Good Friday agreements inked just four months earlier.

Mr McGuinness and Mr Gerry Adams, a fellow senior figure in the Sinn Fein political wing of the IRA, condemned the attack - the first time that the two men had unequivocally denounced a republican bombing.

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