A FRENCH CUSTOMS plane spotted the ship off the coast of Brittany, and when it entered French waters the pilot noticed that the five-man crew had put on wet suits, inflated a dinghy and was apparently getting ready to abandon ship. The pilot thought they might be smugglers or drug dealers who had seen the surveillance plane and decided to make a break for it. Customs forces on land were alerted and boarded the ship, the Panamanian-flagged Eksund. They found the largest haul of terrorist armaments ever to be confiscated at one time.

It sounds like the beginning of a Frederick Forsythe novel or a James Bond movie, but it all happened a few weeks ago, and it has a special meaning for Americans. The cargo had been loaded aboard the Eksund in Libya, and its crewmen were all Irish. They were carrying stolen passports. One crewman was later identified as one of the most wanted members of the Irish Republican Army. Inside benches in the cabin, customs men found five Kalashnikov rifles, ready to fire, a machine gun and five packs of plastic explosives wired and ready for detonation. In the hold were 10 Soviet machine guns with anti-aircraft gun mounts, 20 missiles, 1,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 50 tons of ammunition, two tons of plastic explosives and hundreds of Soviet grenades. The French, British and Irish governments are convinced of the obvious: these supplies were being sent by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the IRA.

If there are still people in the United States so befuddled as to believe that the IRA is some band of heroes deserving of financial, emotional and political support, this news should set them straight. That plastic explosive is the kind used to murder 11 civilians in Enniskillen two weeks ago. Among the 60 persons wounded in that bombing were more than a dozen children between 2 and 15. The IRA did that. It admits it did it. And it will use every penny sent from this country to murder and terrorize again. If that means dealing with the likes of Moammar Gadhafi, the IRA has no qualms. Americans who contribute to this kind of international terrorism should be ashamed.