DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ Ireland's second-highest court today blocked the extradition of an escaped Irish Republican Army convict who had been ordered sent back to Northern Ireland.

A handcuffed Angelo Fusco, 43, was being driven by detectives to the Republic of Ireland's border with the British-linked province when his lawyers successfully won a delaying verdict from High Court Justice Joseph Finnegan in Dublin.

Fusco, who was arrested Monday night near the southwest Irish coastal town of Tralee, is now scheduled to appear before the High Court on Thursday for legal arguments about whether his extradition can proceed.

Fusco was a member of a four-man IRA unit that ambushed and killed a British army commando in Belfast in 1980.

He and his comrades all escaped from the city's Crumlin Road Jail the day before their 1981 convictions by changing clothes with their defense attorneys during a jailhouse visit. The disguised prisoners tried to walk out the front gate undetected, then one opened fire with a smuggled handgun when a guard recognized them. Nobody was wounded.

Fusco was arrested in the Republic of Ireland three years ago. He went missing after being granted bail during his legal fight against extradition.

Even if Fusco is returned to Northern Ireland to begin serving his life sentence, he could be paroled by July under terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord. It recommended freedom by that date for all convicted members of truce-observing paramilitary groups. The IRA, which killed more than 1,800 people during a 27-year campaign to destabilize Northern Ireland, called a cease-fire in 1997.

All three of Fusco's comrades have already been recaptured, served severely shortened sentences in Northern Ireland, and been paroled. They included Joe Doherty, who became a cause celebre in Irish-American circles after the FBI arrested him in New York City in 1984. Doherty was finally extradited back to Belfast in 1992.