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Jurors in the trial of three men accused of a terrorism conspiracy in South Florida against the powers that be in Northern Ireland watched this week as federal prosecutors assembled a literal mountain of evidence that filled a table and much of the floor in front of them. At the end of the day, the scene in the Fort Lauderdale federal courthouse Monday resembled that of a macabre children’s party as toy truck parts shared space with real guns and ammunition. The pile was built up bit by bit, over almost six hours testimony admitting evidence. On the table were dozens of handguns, all but two of them sleek semi-automatics, and the clips to hold their bullets, plus clear plastic bags filled with three-inch long rounds of ammunition that are designed for AK-47 assault weapons. On the floor around the table lay at least eight boxes, with all their internal packaging, that federal prosecutors say were meant to carry the weapons in separate mailings last summer from South Florida post offices to confederates in the Republic of Ireland, members of the outlawed Irish Republican Army who would cross the border into Northern Ireland to commit terrorist activities. Most weapons had been hidden in hollowed-out computer and stereo equipment. In one case it was a toy fire truck. In others it was a model boat and a girl’s karaoke machine. In one box was a birthday card: “You’re 8!” In all cases, jurors were told, the customs declarations mentioned only “the innocent item” in the shipment, not the weapons. Toward the end of the day, when Fort Lauderdale defense attorney Fred Haddad wanted a round of .50-caliber ammunition to make the point that the AK-47 is a “war weapon” useful against aircraft and tanks, he had to lean and stretch over the packaging to reach the table and the projectile. (Armored vehicles routinely patrol Belfast and other towns in Northern Ireland, and British military helicopters hover above towns, sometimes for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.) The paramilitary politics of Northern Ireland — a piece of the United Kingdom with a population near Broward County, Florida’s — is difficult to comprehend, but the shear bulk of the pile of evidence that was spread out before the jurors in the federal courtroom illustrated that at stake is a deadly business. A 59-count indictment accuses the defendants of providing material support to terrorism, conspiring to murder and maim individuals in Northern Ireland and illegally using the mails to ship weaponry. On trial are Conor Claxton, 27, of Deerfield Beach, defended by Haddad; Anthony Smyth, 33, of Weston, who has lived in the United States more than 10 years; and Martin Mullan, 30, who was arrested in Philadelphia. Claxton reportedly said shortly after his arrest that the gun-running operation had been authorized by the IRA’s army council. The IRA has denied the allegation. Federal prosecutor Richard Scruggs has suggested longtime U.S. resident Smyth was planted here by the IRA until it had an assignment for him. The IRA’s goal is to force the U.K. to give up its claim to Northern Ireland and see the province united with the independent republic. The weapons, legal in the United States, were bought from Boynton Beach, Fla., gun-dealer Edward Bluestein, who is cooperating with the government. The main buyer allegedly was Siobhan Browne — a native of the Republic of Ireland who is Smyth’s girlfriend and a licensed real estate agent who worked as a stockbroker and financial adviser in South Florida. Browne, 34, also was arrested and in March agreed to plead guilty to making false statements to a licensed gun-dealer. She could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, but a deal may reduce that to no more than two years. U.S. authorities first noticed Browne making an unusual number of gun purchases in the first half of 1999. But it wasn’t until early July, when a routine X-ray of air mail in Coventry, England, revealed a .357-caliber Magnum en route to the Republic of Ireland, that the evidence in the Broward courtroom was gathered. The investigation involved, among other agencies, the U.S. Secret Service, the Irish national police, Scotland Yard and the Royal Air Force, which flew the confiscated parcels to FBI headquarters in Washington. The weapons are believed to have been bought in Florida because there are relatively few restrictions on their purchase here, and Monday’s testimony underscored the difference in gun culture. An inspector for Scotland Yard and London’s police force had never fired a gun. A detective (a Garda) with 20 years on Ireland’s national police force, three of them on the Northern Ireland border, had seen AK-47s only at training programs. Only an Irish ballistics specialist from Dublin had experience firing guns, and that was because it is his job to test-fire weapons. He had fired all the guns stretched out before the jurors, to make sure that what prosecutors are alleging as dangerous weapons are, in fact, dangerous. His conclusion: “All of the weapons function as designed.”

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