Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: 9/11

Omagh Part 3 An End to Terrorism?

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on October 13 2015.

peace process

On 15 August 1998 at 3.04 p.m. an explosion in Omagh killed 31 people and injured 220. This was done in the pursuit of a united Ireland by dissidents objecting to the Good Friday Agreement signed earlier that year. Although the police knew who the culprits were, the families of the victims were frustrated that no one was prosecuted and they raised funds to bring a civil action. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness expressed their support but refused to give any information that would help bring the bombers to justice. The case was not concluded until 2009. Why did it take so long to bring the murderers to any kind of justice and why was it left to “ordinary” people to make such an effort? The authorities believed the actions of the families were unhelpful to the peace process. Compromise and forgiveness were the order of the day with their corollaries of impunity and surrender.

Good out of Evil?

Just two months after Omagh, two planes flew into the World Trade Centre. That was supposed to change the context of terrorism. Different conditions post-9/11 helped in the defeat of the LTTE. Did Omagh help the Irish peace process? After the carnage many tried to adopt a positive outlook, hoping good would come out of evil. It was thought that the strength of public outrage would shame the Real IRA into giving up the “armed struggle”. With arms being decommissioned in 2005, we were told that the war was over and the Provisional IRA was no more.

McGuigan Murder

kevinmcguigan

On August 12th, 2015, former Provisional IRA member Kevin McGuigan was shot dead outside his Belfast home. It is believed that he was killed in retaliation for the killing in May of IRA leader Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison. PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) Chief Constable, George Hamilton said  that the Provisional  IRA still exists and IRA members may have been involved in the McGuigan murder.

mcguinnessstorey

Bobby Storey was arrested. Storey is a close ally of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and has an office at Stormont. Stormont Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, said he was “surprised” to learn about Mr Storey’s arrest. “Bobby Storey is a valued member of Sinn Féin’s core leadership. He has played a leading role in the development of Sinn Féin’s peace strategy and is a long-standing and loyal supporter, defender and advocate of the peace and political processes.”

coffin

Terrorists and Ordinary Decent Criminals

 

Before the Good Friday Agreement, the Provisional IRA enjoyed links with organized crime in the same areas of the Costa del Sol where many of Dublin’s top “ordinary” criminals, the “Murphia”, lived. The Murphia became the wholesale suppliers for parts of the UK drugs markets. The Provisional IRA funded its terrorist activities with bank robberies and protection rackets. Martin McGuinness, former IRA Commandant for Derry, and Gerry Adams were prominent in the labyrinthine negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the IRA laying down its arms. As a minister in the government of the statelet of Northern Ireland, McGuinness   visited Sri Lanka to advise us on peace and reconciliation.

 

The Real IRA has been responsible for murders and pipe bomb attacks in the Republic and has taken over many of the security and protection rackets once run by the Provos. The group is believed to be extorting millions of Euros from targeting drug dealers — as well as business people — in Dublin and Cork. The dissidents are also believed to be selling some of these bombs to gangs including criminal elements within the Travelling community. In 2009, the Irish Army Ordnance Corps dealt with 61 live bombs and 140 hoax bombs. In 2010, they dealt with 40 live bombs, mostly in Dublin.

 

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE was mainly dependent for funding in the early days on robberies and extortion.  Trading in gold, laundering money and dealing in narcotics brought the LTTE substantial revenue to buy sophisticated weaponry. They also played a role in providing passports, other papers, and also engaged in human trafficking.

Real IRA Still in Business

According to Forbes, the Real IRA is currently the ninth richest terrorist organisation in the world, with an income of around £32m, (ISIS is top of the league with £1.3bn) largely generated from smuggling and organised crime. The Real IRA remained active immediately after Omagh. A car bomb exploded at midnight on March 4 2001 outside the BBC’s studios in London. British authorities suspected the Real IRA had planted the bomb as retaliation for a Panorama programme about Omagh.  There was also a bombing in Ealing on 3 August 2001 and an attempted bombing in Birmingham city centre on 3 November 2001.

Did the Provos Really Lay Down Arms?

There has been informed speculation recently that the Provisional IRA did not fully decommission its arms as officially announced in 2005. According to Mitchell Reiss, former US special envoy, during negotiations on decommissioning, Gerry Adams asked that the IRA be allowed to keep guns to counter dissident threats – a request that was accepted by the Blair government but rejected by Dublin. Arms  that Adams wanted to keep as a defence AGAINST  dissidents disrupting the peace rare now available TO dissidents to disrupt the peace process. Reports, issued by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) acknowledged that the IRA had retained weaponry. Did the retention have the approval of the British, Irish and US governments? Neither the IMC nor the IICD ever specified the precise nature of the weaponry, although there is a hint that high-powered weapons, such as automatic rifles were held back. Neither body reports that the withheld weaponry was recovered or destroyed, or explained what happened to it. Kevin McGuigan was killed with an automatic rifle.

Arms Caches Still Being Found

In July 2013, Gardaí uncovered the largest ever dissident republican arsenal buried on land at the Old Airport Road in north Dublin. It included explosives and guns that the Provisional IRA should have decommissioned years earlier. The haul included 15kg of semtex that the Gaddafi had supplied in the 1980s. The buried weaponry also included handguns, shotguns, an Uzi submachine gun, electronic devices to disrupt mobile phones and more than 1,300 rounds of ammunition. In September 2013, Gardaí in Meelick, County Clare, seized weapons, explosives and circuit boards that could be used to trigger massive bombs.

In May 2015, when the Republic’s security forces prepared for a visit by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, six republican dissidents from two hard-line factions were arrested. Irish Defence Forces’ bomb disposal teams were sent to Courtown in Wexford and Dundalk, Louth. Bomb components were found in the security operation near the border with Northern Ireland.

Terrorists Could Govern in Dublin

Sinn Féin, formerly the proxy of the Provisional IRA, is confident of winning enough seats in the next Dáil to lead the Opposition in the Republic of Ireland, with a chance of being the leading party in the election after that. A scenario can be imagined in which the governing party in the Republic of Ireland is influenced by someone who has been questioned about the IRA execution of Kevin McGuigan.

 

Could the LTTE Rise Again?

For nearly 20 years, we have been hopeful that peace would endure in Ireland. Perhaps we were too complacent. Following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, there have been no terrorist incidents in Sri Lanka. Lower level cadres were rehabilitated and senior figures like Karuna, Pillayan, Daya Master and KP entered the mainstream. In the 2015 parliamentary election former LTTE fighters contested (unsuccessfully) for parliamentary seats. Currently the TNA, which during the war was the proxy of the Tigers, is now the official opposition party in the Sri Lankan parliament.

Does this mean that separatist militancy has been absorbed into the mainstream Sri Lankan polity or is it lying dormant? There is plenty of funding available from the diaspora and many people who still long for Eelam.  Could a reduction of military presence allow a resurgence of violence?

 

Deadly accountancy – Accountability for death

This article was published in The Nation on February12 2012

Timothy J. McVeigh, a decorated US army veteran, was executed on June 11, 2001. Although ‘only’ 168 were killed, the Oklahoma bombing was a great shock to the American people because terrorism on American soil was unusual. Although the perpetrator was not a foreigner, the reaction set in train a series of encroachments of freedom which led to the Bush regime’s use of torture.

Provisional IRA

One might say that ‘only’ 3,000 people were killed during 33 years of the Provisional IRA’s campaign. Each of those deaths was a matter of pain, of grief, loss and bereavement.
Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles is a 1,696 page volume in which three Northern Irish journalists and an academic list 3,638 deaths, directly attributable to ‘The Troubles’, from 1966 to 2000. It depicts the dead as individual human beings, blood and bone and nerve ends, with families and emotions.
League table of death

Neil Tweedie in the Daily Telegraph: “In proportional terms Norway has lost more people than America did on 9/11, and most of them are young, between 13 and 19”. In 2006, Slate contributor Jordan Ellenberg questioned the logic of such comparisons.

“It’s hard for Americans to comprehend what’s happening in the Middle East…What crime in America is morally equal to the killing of eight Israelis?…What event would have the impact on America that the killing of eight Israelis does on Israel? …Unless you truly think Israeli lives are worth more or less than our own, the crime that’s equivalent to the murder of eight Israelis is the murder of eight Americans.”
WTC attack

The fact that 3,000 died at once on 9/11 will always be shocking. The reaction caused more deaths in Iraq (1,033,000 according to Opinion Research Business survey, 601,027 according to The Lancet, 114,731 according to Iraq Body Count Project) and Afghanistan (the US does not release figures; a Brown University study says 14,000 but admits this is a conservative estimate). One of my editors, Nikki Stern, lost her husband on 9/11.

Nikki believes that the US response was disproportionate and says the overriding legacy for most Americans is either anger or apathy. She contends that this is a poor tribute to those killed in the attacks and prefers to remember the days of late 2001, when she observed people reaching out to support one another, despite political and religious differences.
How many dead Sri Lankans?

In Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, Jon Snow doomily intoned that ”As many as 40,000, probably more” civilians had died. Rohan Gunaratna contends that ‘only’ 1,400 civilians were killed in the north east Vanni pocket in the first five months of 2009. He said that this estimate was based on interviews with Tamil coroners.

Professor Michael Roberts considers this ‘astounding and misleading’. Rajasingham Narendran asked: “How many coroners were available during the war in the area for recording deaths? “ Narendran talked to IDPs and estimates deaths “were very likely around 10,000 and did not exceed 15,000 at most”.

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan of the Point Pedro Institute told Roberts “(approximately) 12,000 (without counting armed Tiger personnel)”.

Dr. Noel Nadesan estimated around 16,000, including fighters and natural deaths.
In the documentary Lies Agreed Upon, it is argued that 40,000 deaths would be physically impossible. The population of the Wanni is estimated at 300,000. 293,800 people were registered at the receiving centres. That leaves a maximum of 6,200 to be accounted for. Around 5,000 SLA soldiers were killed.
No civilian casualties

The Banyan column in the Economist: “It is probably too much to hope the government might adopt a fresh approach to these familiar allegations. There were always at least three ways to tackle them. It could, early on, have argued brazenly that the benefits of ending the war outweighed the cost in human life. The Tigers were as vicious and totalitarian a bunch of thugs as ever adopted terrorism as a national-liberation strategy. Or the government could have insisted that its army’s behaviour was largely honourable, but that some regrettable abuses may have occurred, which would be thoroughly investigated.”

The government’s position on ‘zero civilian casualties’ has modified over time to a claim that everything possible was done to avoid civilian casualties. However, by failing to come up with its own numbers the government has allowed western critics to take sole possession of the numbers game.

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