A leaked US embassy cable written by former US ambassador Thomas Foley in December 2007 reveals that Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern believed at least three US flights involved in so-called extraordinary renditions landed on Irish soil.

Ahern's concern that CIA flights were refueling at Shannon Airport before or after conducting renditions led him to ask ambassador Foley if Irish officials could conduct random inspections of US aircraft.

Such inspections would provide cover, Ahern said, if it was ever revealed that such controversial flights had passed through Ireland.

Publicly Ahern accepted US assurances that the CIA had not used Shannon for rendition operations. Privately, however, the documents published by WikiLeaks reveal that he expressed grave concern over the issue in meetings with US officials.

Foley informed US officials that Ahern was quite convinced that at least three flights had refuelled at the County Clare airport either en route to or returning from rendition missions.

Foley's memo was forwarded to then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and to other American embassies in the EU.

"Ahern noted that he had 'put his neck on the chopping block' and would pay a severe political price if it ever turned out that rendition flights had entered Ireland, or if one was discovered in the future," Foley wrote.

Mr Foley continued: "While Ahern's public stance on extraordinary renditions is rock-solid, his musings during the meeting seemed less assured. This was the only issue during the meeting that agitated him."