GALWAY — Defence lawyers representing six people charged with terrorism in Northern Ireland told a Belfast court on Monday that a British security forces “agent provocateur” played a role in the suspects’ arrests.

The six, who appeared on video from a nearby police station due to concerns about spread of the novel coronavirus, are accused of membership of the “New” Irish Republican Army (IRA) and of planning terrorist attacks.

“Did an MI5 agent organize and finance these meetings?” one of the lawyers asked, referring to a British spy agency.

The six were arrested, along with four other suspects, as part of Operation Arbacia, a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) investigation that involved police in the Republic of Ireland.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said on Monday that Arbacia was “significant and carefully planned,” name-checking M15 as a partner.

Nine people have so far been charged with terrorism, while police are also questioning a Palestinian man who was arrested at Heathrow Airport.

The New IRA is a splinter organization from the better known Provisional IRA, which carried out dozens of bombings that sometimes targeted civilians in Britain during a bloody three-decade insurgency against London’s rule in the region.

Several IRA splinter groups have emerged since the 1990s in opposition to Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the main IRA, joining negotiations ahead of a 1998 peace deal that in turn saw the IRA eventually disarm.

The New IRA is known for killing the young journalist Lyra McKee in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second-biggest city, in 2019.

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