24 March 2006

Old-fashioned terrorists run for cover


**Interesting for its analysis

Friday, March 24, 2006
Posted: 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)

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September 11 changed everything

DUBLIN, Republic of Ireland (AP) -- Not so long ago, when a bomb went off in London, you could be sure it was the Irish Republican Army. If the target was Madrid, that meant the Basque separatist group ETA.

But al Qaeda has shattered the old certainties -- and accelerated the decline of European paramilitary groups that peg their survival to a bedrock of public support. The continent's two most entrenched bands of outlaws, the IRA and ETA, have taken their biggest peacemaking steps in the shadow of al Qaeda carnage.

"The old terrorist groups, at leadership level, would not want to be linked in the public mind with this new type of terror. They wouldn't want to be seen to be competing for attention with it," said Christopher Langton, an analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

"With the IRA and ETA and others, they call cease-fires and want to be negotiated with," said Langton, a retired British army colonel. But with al Qaeda, he said, "there's nobody to negotiate with."

He and Jonathan Stevenson, an anti-terrorism specialist at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, agree that the al Qaeda threat has greatly increased Western governments' willingness to share intelligence, toughen anti-terrorism laws, and tolerate repressive measures. Previously, Britain and Spain faced international criticism when they cracked down on the IRA and ETA, whose members were easier to identify and arrest.

"September 11 and the rise of the new terrorism hardened governments against dealing with groups that commit terrorist violence," said Stevenson, an expert on conflicts from Northern Ireland to Somalia.

He said al Qaeda's "mass-casualty agenda" meant that the violence committed by the IRA and ETA no longer had "stun value."

In its peace declaration this week, ETA -- which killed about 800 people from 1968 to 2003 in hope of pressuring Spain into granting independence to the Basque region -- pledged its cease-fire would be permanent and demanded only admission to negotiations in return, a remarkable climbdown. The group hadn't killed anybody since March 11, 2004, when Moroccan radicals killed 191 people with blasts on Madrid commuter trains, an atrocity that the Spanish government of the day tried to pin on ETA.

The IRA, which killed 1,775 people during a failed 27-year campaign to wrest Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, began disarming just six weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. And just a few weeks after suicide bombers killed 56 people in London, the IRA formally instructed its members to renounce violence for political purposes and to dump their weapons for collection by disarmament officials.

The IRA had ruled out both moves for a decade. Analysts and IRA members alike say that growing international impatience, particularly in the United States after September 11, helped make the unthinkable inevitable.

"Al Qaeda did change things for us," said an IRA veteran, speaking on condition of anonymity because IRA membership remains an imprisonable crime in both Britain and Ireland.

He told The Associated Press that the September 11 attacks made it politically impossible for the IRA to break its 1997 cease-fire. He contrasted that with the fate of the IRA's previous 1994 truce, which ended with a two-ton truck bomb on the City of London, Britain's financial district, that caused vast economic damage and killed two men. The low death toll reflected the IRA policy of phoned warnings and followed two similarly massive strikes on the City of London in 1992 and 1993.

"Up to then, we could expect a certain level of sympathy internationally when we bombed the City of London. Those operations used to be, far and away, the most effective thing we did, the thing that really hit the Brits in their wallets," he said. "I wouldn't expect too many Irish-Americans in New York to cheer us if we did that today -- not after what happened to the twin towers."

Most of Europe's terror-practicing groups rose amid the radical chic and student protests of the late 1960s, when the continent was divided by the Cold War. Germany's Red Army Faction, Italy's Red Brigades and Greece's November 17 kidnapped, assassinated and bombed as they dreamed of Marxist revolution and the collapse of NATO.

Because they lacked any popular base, these small groups proved vulnerable to leaders' arrests. Once the Warsaw Pact collapsed, they disintegrated or lost their direction.

Fred Halliday, a human rights professor at the London School of Economics, said the end of the Cold War undermined virtually all of Europe's paramilitary movements; the IRA, for instance, received Warsaw Pact weaponry through Libya and claimed to be fighting to create a socialist republic.

Halliday cited several factors that drove the IRA, then ETA, toward peace long before al Qaeda appeared. He said the IRA's Sinn Fein party was deeply influenced by the African National Congress' renunciation of "armed struggle" in the early 1990s. Then Sinn Fein jumped at the chance, in 1994, to enter mainstream politics with crucial encouragement from former U.S. President Bill Clinton. ETA, in turn, sought to emulate Sinn Fein's truce-for-talks strategy.

But he said the IRA's and ETA's long road to peace illustrated how long it would take to come to terms with al Qaeda as well as Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement. He said it was inevitable that, someday, the West would end up negotiating with the political descendants of both forces.

"The IRA and ETA must have realized 10, 20 years before their cease-fires that their war wasn't going anywhere. It took their leaders that long to shift their movement towards reality," Halliday said. "How long will it take al Qaeda and Hamas to travel the same journey? It's depressing."

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