Part Three: An Explosive Situation
“One of the most important single things to understand in the context of the brewing conflict between Europeans and Muslims is that Islamic terrorists either do not operate under moral constraints, or operate under constraints so loose that we, from our cultural perspective, can scarcely recognize them as restraints at all. Those Muslims motivated to kill in service of their religion seem to have very little in the way of a reluctance to kill civilians.”
This is the third of a five-part series by El Inglés comparing and contrasting the Troubles in Northern Ireland with the coming Muslim Troubles in Britain. Previously: Part One and Part Two.
The entire series will be made published as a single document in pdf format after the final part is posted at Gates of Vienna.
For those who are new to this series: El Inglés’ analysis is descriptive, not normative. This is not advocacy for what is being described, but rather a hard look at the near future in Britain.
Our Muslim Troubles: Lessons from Northern Ireland
by El Inglés
VI. An Introduction to Amateur Bomb-Building
Rioting and mob violence are, as we have already argued, likely to trigger and be prevalent at the outset of the conflict, but will not be especially lethal and will probably subside as the two sides hunker down in their zones of dominance and do their best to keep each other out. It is surely not too bold a prediction to state that any serious, long-term violence directed by either of the two sides at the other will therefore consist substantially of either the use of explosives or the use of firearms. A consideration of the former allows us to make some intriguing predictions with respect to key strategic and tactical aspects of our Muslim Troubles.
That explosives are likely to be used in a violent conflict in the 21st century is too obvious a point to be worthy of further elaboration in its own right. However, given that neither side in the conflict will have much access, if any at all, to regular supplies of military explosives or explosive devices, nearly all use of explosives will feature home-made explosives of some sort. The importance of this point cannot be overstated. In Iraq, for example, the improvised explosive devices used by insurgents seem to be constructed overwhelmingly out of the vast stores of standard munitions that either existed in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion or that have been smuggled in since. Artillery shells, tank shells, mortar shells, and anti-tank mines, which is to say, industrially produced explosive devices of great power and reliability, have been crucial to the lethality of the operations undertaken against U.S. and other forces.
In the absence of such explosive materials, Iraq insurgents would have been forced to produce home-made explosives to build such devices, which would have drastically reduced their ability to wage their irregular campaign. Those involved in our looming conflict will operate under precisely these sorts of restraints. Though military, industrial, or commercial connections may allow those on the British side to acquire a certain quantity of commercial or military explosives, steady supplies of such material can hardly be relied upon. Accordingly, the amount and type of explosives available to each side will be a function of the following: a) their degree of access to relevant chemical precursors, and b) their technical proficiency in producing the required explosive substances and detonating them. Let us consider each in turn.
Access to Chemical Precursors
Those with a grasp of the underlying chemistry (which we will not be discussing in detail in this document) and the barest familiarity with Google will quickly discover that all sorts of chemical precursors for home-made explosives are available online to whoever wishes to order them, certainly in retail quantities and sometimes in bulk. However, attempts on the part of parties not well-established in the chemical or agricultural industries to order large, or in extreme cases any, quantities of such chemicals will have a high probability of resulting in the suppliers contacting the authorities. This principle can be generally illustrated in the context of ammonium nitrate, which is by far and away the most important chemical substance in this context.
Ammonium nitrate, produced and sold in huge quantities as a general purpose fertilizer, can be converted into an explosive substance if it is mixed with certain other chemical substances. Being available in huge quantities for a legitimate purpose, it has proven to be central to the bombing campaigns of various paramilitary groups, including the PIRA, as well as in one-off attacks such as the Oklahoma City bombing. Such bombings and bombing campaigns would be exceptionally difficult to carry out without it. A large car or truck bomb of the type that the IRA used to devastate parts of London and Manchester in the 1990s requires hundreds of pounds, if not tonnes, of explosive. If many such bombings are to be carried out as part of an ongoing bombing campaign, then clearly huge amounts of the relevant chemical precursors are required. Hence the key role of ammonium nitrate in this regard. There is simply nothing else that can be procured in sufficiently large amounts.
The importance of ammonium nitrate will likely prove a key operational difficulty for Muslims throughout our Muslim Troubles. Though access to it is not restricted per se, it is usually bought in bulk from agricultural suppliers who adhere voluntarily to a code of practice under which they report suspicious purchases or requests to the authorities. This code of practice did not prevent Bodle Brothers, an agricultural supplier in Burgess Hill, selling 600kg of it to an Algerian would-be terrorist in 2003, despite it being vastly too much for the allotment for which he claimed to need it. However, we assume that the powers-that-be have since applied a cattle prod to the nether regions of agricultural suppliers in general, and that said suppliers run a tighter ship now. Either way, a descent into violent conflict will necessarily result in far greater scrutiny of attempts to purchase such chemicals than exists at present, and being a Muslim will be the greatest red flag of all. The five men of Bangladeshi origin arrested taking photographs of Sellafield on the day Osama bin Laden was killed will no doubt attest to the way in which belonging to certain ethnic groups results in you being flagged for special attention fairly promptly. This suspicion will only heighten along with the violence we predict.
British paramilitaries are unlikely to suffer from such difficulties, at least to the same extent, for two reasons. Firstly, John Smith will not attract the same degree of attention as Mohammed bin Qassim when he phones up his local garden centre for a bag of ammonium nitrate. Secondly, British paramilitaries will doubtless already be recruiting farmers into their organizations (for a variety of reasons), and who in government will be able to keep track of the approximately one million tonnes of ammonium nitrate acquired for legitimate agricultural purposes every year? If 100kg of ammonium nitrate is passed from a farmer to a bomb-maker and ends up devastating a Muslim residential area in Birmingham, how will the security forces move to interdict such flows in future? This is, after all, only a tenth of a percent of a percent of a percent of all the ammonium nitrate used annually.
We must conclude that any British paramilitary organization worthy of the name will certainly be able to acquire substantial quantities of ammonium nitrate, through setting up some agricultural operation itself as a front if necessary. It will be completely impossible for even the most careful efforts of the security services to reliably derail attempts by these paramilitaries to obtain ammonium nitrate in significant quantities. Accordingly, as was true of the IRA, there will be no obvious limit to the number or size of the bombs they will be able to build assuming they have the required expertise in certain key regards.
In parallel with this conclusion is another, equally important one: Muslim paramilitaries will not, in any remotely plausible scenario, ever attain the capability to conduct comprehensive bombing campaigns of the sort that the PIRA conducted during the Troubles. Both the maximum size and the number of the explosive devices they will be able to produce will be drastically curtailed relative to those of their enemies, the British paramilitaries fighting them.
We note here in the interests of being thorough that some Muslims do seem to believe they can produce car-bomb-sized explosive devices through the use of gas canisters as main charges. Attempted attacks in New York in 2010, Stockholm in 2010, and the UK in 2007 (all of which failed) demonstrate that there does exist the occasional Muslim terrorist of the opinion that these devices can actually be viable. However, their record to date in inducing these devices to explode is fairly underwhelming. It is certainly the case that, if one has a conventional explosive device, having gas canisters in close proximity to it when it explodes should create a bigger blast as the containers rupture, the gas rushes out with the shock wave, mixes with atmospheric oxygen, and ignites. A similar principle has been utilized by weapons developers in creating what are called fuel-air explosives, or thermobaric bombs. However, if one can produce conventional explosives, there is no obvious need to use gas canisters, as indeed the PIRA, and for that matter the loyalist paramilitaries, did not. And if one can not produce them, then one is left in the position of trying to pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps with the jerryrigged firework-and-gas-canister assemblies that have so far done little more than allow security services in the UK and other countries to cull the less technically adept parts of the Muslim terrorist community.
To summarize this section, British paramilitaries will certainly develop contacts that put them in possession of large quantities of virtually all the chemical precursors that bomb-makers could possibly hope for. This will allow them to conduct what we have called a PIRA-style comprehensive bombing campaign, in which all types and sizes of bombs are built and used. In contrast, Muslims will be restricted to building much smaller devices composed largely from retail quantities of more specific types of chemical precursors.
Production and Detonation of Explosive Devices
Those who conclude on the basis of the foregoing that anyone with access to ammonium nitrate can build a bomb, are, thankfully, correct only in the sense that such a mixture will, in principle, explode if one knows how to detonate it. Understanding this point requires a certain familiarity with how explosives work.
There are various taxonomies of explosives, but the one that concerns us here is as follows. Broadly speaking, explosive substances can be sub-divided into three different types: primary explosives, which are relatively easy to detonate with temperature, shock, or electric spark (e.g. nitroglycerine, lead azide, TATP), secondary explosives, which are less sensitive and safer to handle (e.g. PETN, RDX), and tertiary explosives, which are the least sensitive and hardest to detonate of all (e.g. ANFO, TNT). Primary explosives are far too easily detonated to be used safely in large amounts, but they have the explosive power necessary to detonate the more stable secondary explosives, which can in turn be used to detonate tertiary explosives. As such, the problem facing the would-be bomb-builder is how to produce or obtain a set of explosive substances that allows him to create a sequence of explosions, that, concatenated into the tiniest fraction of a second, result in an explosion that satisfies his criteria.
Most ammonium nitrate-based explosives, and certainly those that are most likely to be produced by those who lack access to large supplies of industrial chemicals, are tertiary explosives and therefore require the use of both primary and secondary explosives to detonate. This presents would-be bomb-builders with a problem fundamental to the nature of explosives themselves.
At some point in the bomb-building process, one must handle sensitive primary explosives that can go off very easily if exposed to the wrong type of stimulus. Those who cannot procure or produce secondary explosives will have no option but to rely purely on large amounts of primary explosive for the entire device, an exceptionally dangerous course of action when a single spark or jolt can result in detonation. It is thought that the notoriously sensitive primary explosive TATP was used as the explosive in the 7/7 bombings. If so, this would be an example of creating explosive devices with primary explosives only, an incredibly risky undertaking and one that would require a great deal of care and at least a little luck to pull off.
If one does not wish to use such large amounts of primary explosive, one must rely on a secondary explosive either as the main charge or to detonate the main charge, and use the primary to detonate the secondary. But this requires access to the chemical precursors for the secondaries, the technical skills to produce them in pure enough form (which is not necessarily a straightforward undertaking), and the bomb-building skills to incorporate them, with the primary, into a viable device. Neither the experimentation nor the subsequent bomb-building are trivial matters, nor matters to be attempted by the slapdash.
This point can be better understood by considering the explosive repertoire of the PIRA. Technically proficient though it was, the PIRA was greatly enabled by the commercially produced Semtex (and presumably detonators, or primaries, as well) that it was provided with over the years by Gaddafi’s Libyan regime. Used in medium-sized bombs (such as the one used to blow up the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984), as booster charges for large car bombs, and in home-made, anti-personnel coffee jar bombs designed to detonate on impact, Semtex made a great impact on the PIRA’s military capabilities. A plastic explosive designed to combine the characteristics of explosive power, insensitivity to shock, and malleability, and possessing uniform and entirely predictable characteristics, Semtex is an ideal secondary explosive, and one of the most versatile explosive compositions in existence. The PIRA doubtless had the ability to produce secondary explosives itself, and would have done so when necessary. But this did not reduce the utility of its Semtex supplies. How much greater would the utility of such high-quality explosives be to inexperienced bomb-builders trying to cobble devices together in their bath-tubs?
If one browses the various improvised munitions handbooks, anarchist manuals, and Al-Qaeda bomb-building manuals that the Internet so generously makes available to us, one could be forgiven for thinking that a few pints of urine, a couple of clothes pegs, and a bottle of sulphuric acid were all that were required to start one’s own bombing campaign. Fortunately, as we have explained, the real world erects barriers that make this Blue Peter approach to terrorism problematic. We must observe, without wishing to appear complacent, that the bomb-building skills of the Muslim population of the UK, or Europe more generally, do not as yet seem to be particularly advanced. Though the 7/7 bombers were obviously well-trained enough to conduct a successful attack, the 21/7 would-be bombers were less proficient in this regard, with the detonators (i.e. the primary explosives) detonating but the main charges (i.e. the secondary explosives) failing to do so. The repeated failure of gas-canister car bombings is further evidence of technical ineptitude and restricted access to chemical precursors on the part of Muslim would-be bombers at present.
There will be other difficulties involved in amateur bomb-making. In contrast with military or industrial explosive systems, in which explosive substances and components have properties and interactions which are known with precision, amateur bomb-builders will be dealing with self-devised systems in which a) the purity of chemical substances, b) the amounts and relative positions of explosive components, c) the interactions between primaries, secondaries, and tertiaries, and d) the reliability of detonation systems will have to be tested to ensure that one has produced a viable explosive system. Accordingly, experimentation will be required, and it will be obvious that this will have to take place in isolated areas if terrorist plotters are to avoid detection by the authorities. Muslims are not only overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas, but, as we have noted, already stick out like a sore thumb in rural areas unless they happen to be white converts. This increases the importance of such locations as Pakistan and Somalia to Muslim terrorists. However, visiting such places to receive training presents its own problems, which range from being flagged by the Pakistani, British, or American security services to having one’s stay in the motherland cut short by a Hellfire missile. Moreover, the high failure rate of graduates of these camps in actually trying to build viable devices suggests that tuition therein is often not really up to scratch.
In closing, let us consider what light is shed on these matters by the attempted terrorist attacks in Stockholm in December 2010. There were two bombs in the attack. The first one was a car bomb consisting of a primitive explosive device (possibly containing fireworks) and a number of liquid petroleum gas canisters. The gas was ignited by the explosive device but did not itself detonate, and caused only minor injuries to a small number of passers-by. This must be considered a severe failure, and is indicative of the type of problem that will be faced by would-be terrorists who lack access to chemical precursors, the technical expertise to formulate them into a bomb, or, in all likelihood in this particular case, both.
The second bomb consisted of a set of six pipe bombs strung around the bomber’s torso. The bomber was killed when one of the pipe bombs exploded prematurely, blowing a hole in his abdomen. A pipe bomb is essentially a very large and powerful firecracker, containing a black powder-type substance that explodes only if confined. These powders are extremely sensitive to temperature, shock, and static electricity, and this sensitivity is presumably what accounted for the premature explosion of one of the devices and the ignominious death of the Muslim terrorist who bore it. Whether the bomber went to heaven for his martyrdom, or hell for his suicide, will have to remain a secret between him and Allah. We confine our own comments to suggesting that, from the perspective of those still on this mortal coil, this second part of the operation too must be considered a failure. Such are the difficulties of reliably producing and detonating explosive devices, difficulties which have confounded people far more capable than the recently-deceased Stockholm bomber, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly.
VII. Paramilitaries: General Considerations
Though the threat of Muslim terrorism is often compared to the one-time (and future?) threat of Irish republican terrorism, the notion that they are similar is an appalling conceptual error that needs to be eradicated here. It is imperative that readers understand the massive qualitative difference between these two types of terrorism. Despite a common perception that the PIRA were perfectly happy to blow up British civilians willy-nilly if, in their estimation, it served their needs to do so, the truth of the matter is that, overwhelmingly, they were exceptionally reluctant to inflict significant numbers of such casualties, and then only as collateral damage in operations aimed at police, military, political, or economic targets. This point may well prove to be difficult to accept for the British people most likely to be reading this document, but it is true nonetheless. Of course, communities on the receiving end of violence rapidly lose interest in the subtleties of what exactly those directing that violence at them do or not intend, or which bomb went off early and which on time. This is natural enough, but cannot be allowed to affect the analysis here.
Most of the most notorious PIRA bomb attacks of the Troubles, which is to say, those that killed the largest number of civilians, either did so due to poor planning and/or operational errors, or were not sanctioned by the PIRA command structure. By and large, they were PR disasters for the PIRA and damaged its ability to present itself as a non-sectarian organization with legitimate political goals that it pursued as a disciplined military force. Let us review some of the most notorious here to establish this key point.
- The La Mon restaurant bombing in 1978 was one of the worst PIRA atrocities of the Troubles, involving as it did an incendiary bomb that immolated twelve Protestant civilians. In what appears to have been a pattern for the PIRA, the phoned-in warning was delayed by the inability of the PIRA operatives in question to find a functional public phone box in time to provide a reasonable period for the building to be evacuated.
- The Omagh bombing of 1998 was not in fact perpetrated by the PIRA, which was now committed to peace by the Good Friday Agreement, but by the dissident group that came to be known as the Real IRA. Though the operational doctrine of the RIRA was essentially that of the ‘classical’ PIRA and would not have allowed the targeting of civilians in this fashion, the car bomb was left in a location different to that originally planned. This resulted in a confused warning, and civilians being herded into the actual blast by unsuspecting security forces. Hence the extremely high death toll of twenty-nine.
- The 1987 Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, in which eleven civilians, most of them elderly First World War veterans, was a PR disaster for the PIRA. Gerry Adams himself said ‘the Republican movement cannot survive another Enniskillen.’ It is not entirely clear what happened, but it is thought that an army band (i.e. a military target) was the actual target, and that a mistake of whatever sort with respect to the timing of the explosion resulted in the civilian deaths.
- The two Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, which resulted in 21 deaths between them and would eventually result in one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice of recent British history, do not appear to have been sanctioned by the PIRA leadership of the time. An insufficiently early warning for the first blast due, it appears, to yet another vandalised public phone, and a complete lack of warning for the second, contributed to the high casualty figure. Whatever exactly one concludes with respect to the intentions of the bombers, the Birmingham bombings were anomalous when viewed within the context of the PIRA’s 30-year military campaign.
- The Shankill Road bombing of 1993 was an attempt on the part of the PIRA to decapitate the UDA by killing Johnny Adair and other leaders in their headquarters, which was situated above a chip shop on the Shankill Road. The bomb, carried into the shop by two PIRA members dressed as delivery men, had an eleven-second fuse designed to allow those in the shop to get out before it detonated. However, the explosion occurred prematurely, killing eight civilians, one UDA member, and one of the bombers. The UDA leadership was elsewhere at the time.
- The Bloody Friday bombings of July 1972 were a part of the commercial bombing campaign that the PIRA had been conducting since 1971. Twenty-two bombs went off in Belfast, killing nine people. Warnings were called in for the bombs, but the time given to evacuate the areas was utterly inadequate, with the PIRA vastly overestimating the ability of the security forces to coordinate an evacuation against twenty-two bombs in such a short space of time. It issued a belated apology in 2002.
The key point to be made here is that, however ruthless the PIRA might have been, it never took the killing of civilians as an operational goal in its own right. Civilian casualties were certainly accepted as collateral damage (and the PIRA’s definition of civilians could be rather broad, including, for example, workmen working at British Army bases), but this tends to be true of all violent actors, military or paramilitary, and is certainly true of the British Army. The unwillingness to target civilians per se was founded on the following factors: a) a genuine repugnance on the part of many PIRA Volunteers and the PIRA leadership with respect to such activities, b) a keen understanding of how such activities eroded support for the PIRA amongst the Catholic populations of both NI and the Republic of Ireland; c) a doctrinal commitment to a non-sectarian conflict in which British forces were to be forced out of NI, which would then be incorporated into a united Ireland.
This is not, of course, to deny the mutual sectarian hostility that existed between Catholics and Protestants in NI, but simply to point out that the exercising of this hostility was not the primary motivating factor for the PIRA. The PIRA set off thousands of bombs during the Troubles, but only the very smallest fraction of them have become notorious for having killed large numbers of civilians. This is not the behaviour one would expect of an organization which took the killing of civilians as a key objective. Truck bombs of the sort that devastated English cities in the 1990s could have killed hundreds of civilians if the PIRA had detonated them with such murderous intent.
Some may object to this characterisation of the PIRA’s violence on the grounds of the sectarian killings that it engaged in from the early 1970s onwards. However, this sectarian killing campaign was instigated largely by the loyalist paramilitaries, was viewed with repugnance by many PIRA members, and was the source of bitter divisions in the PIRA leadership over what was considered a distortion of the organization’s long-term goals. This tit-for-tat killing spree ran at its fiercest from 1972 to 1976, when, threatening to escalate to new heights, it was scaled back by mutual consent on both sides. In the late 80s, when the loyalist paramilitaries ratcheted their killings up again, the PIRA refrained from retaliating on the same scale. The reasons for this are complex, but included an awareness that sectarian killings would damage the electoral appeal of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the PIRA, and that it was politically useful to be seen as the victim of sectarian terrorist violence rather than the perpetrator.
Irrespective of exactly how one interprets IRA violence, the contrast with Muslim terrorism and violence could hardly be starker. Muslim terrorism essentially consists of killing as many civilians as possible, with infrastructural damage and consequent economic damage thrown in for good measure if possible. This is not to deny that Muslim terrorists also target political and military figures, but they do not seem to have any preference for these targets. Furthermore, these targets are often well-guarded and hard to strike, and this, combined with the Islamic willingness to strike the softest of soft targets, means that they usually do.
The point has been made before by others, but the only discernible limiting factor on the terrorist violence that Muslims are prepared to do is capability. If they can kill ten people, they will, but if they can kill a hundred, they will do that instead. If they can kill a thousand, that would be preferable again. The talking heads who reiterate endlessly that we have dealt with terrorism before in the form of Irish republican terrorism, and that Muslim terrorism is not the only type of terrorism we face, always seem to ignore the fact that Muslim terrorists will kill as many of us as they can, men, women, and children. No similar terrorist threat has ever been faced by this country.
One of the most important single things to understand in the context of the brewing conflict between Europeans and Muslims is that Islamic terrorists either do not operate under moral constraints, or operate under constraints so loose that we, from our cultural perspective, can scarcely recognize them as restraints at all. Those Muslims motivated to kill in service of their religion seem to have very little in the way of a reluctance to kill civilians. Whether this lack of restraint derives directly from their religious doctrines or not is a matter that others can concern themselves with. Here, it suffices for us to observe that the type of mass civilian death toll the PIRA tried to avoid during its own armed campaign is precisely what Muslim terrorists strive for. Accordingly, and unsurprisingly, their terrorist attacks regularly cause civilian death tolls orders of magnitude beyond anything the IRA was responsible for, intentionally or otherwise.
The most obvious example of this would be the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, which killed approximately 3,000 people, but there are many others that serve to demonstrate that Muslim terrorism takes the mass infliction of such casualties as its core operating objective. The Bali nightclub bombing killed about 200 people, mainly tourists. The Madrid subway bombing had a similar death toll. Whether we look at the U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya, the attacks on Bombay in 2008, the Beslan school attack in Russia in 2004, or the Baghdad church bombing in 2010, we see that the basic objective is always the same: kill as many civilians as possible, simultaneously damaging economically vital infrastructure if possible, in attempts to horrify the relevant governments into doing what one wants them to do.
This will have great significance for our violent conflict with Muslims, in that atrocities of this sort tend to be responded to in kind in a tit-for-tat fashion. Loyalist and republican paramilitaries were quite conscious and explicit about the retaliatory nature of their attacks, often killing similar numbers of people to the numbers of their own communities who had been killed in the attacks they were retaliating for. Where will this eventually lead if Muslim terrorists in the UK storm a school and try to recreate the Beslan massacre on British soil?
Let us condense the argument to a single point here. The long string of torture-murders carried out in the 1970s by the UVF unit that came to be known as the Shankill Butchers was arguably the single most appalling episode in the Troubles. The murders were particularly disturbing in that most of them were finished off with the application of a razor-sharp butcher’s knife to the throat of the victim, cutting through the neck all the way down to the spinal column. These murders were committed by what was, in effect, a UVF franchise led by a psychopath who had already demonstrated that the UVF leadership could not control him, and who was content to act without regard for UVF policy and without the knowledge of the UVF leadership.
These frightful murders, the low point of the Troubles in terms of their sheer bestial brutality, were not only well within the boundaries of what Islamic terrorists seem to allow themselves, but very similar to what appears to constitute a key operational option for these people. The beheading, on camera, of those unfortunate enough to fall into their hands, is something we have come to expect from Muslim terrorists, and that this material should be used in recruitment attempts tells us something about Muslim psychology and the opinions of Muslim terrorists as to what will excite and motivate their fellow Muslims.
This mention of the Shankill Butchers takes us conveniently back to the differences between Irish republican terrorism and loyalist terrorism. British readers are far more likely to know of the existence of the PIRA than they are of the existence of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) or the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the two main loyalist paramilitaries, but these latter are no less relevant to the likely course of events in our Muslim Troubles. We can start to see why this should be so by considering what was arguably the single most effective terrorist attack of the Troubles: the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974.
We will be discussing these bombings in more detail later on, but mention them here as well as evidence of the sheer ruthlessness of the UVF. Three car bombs in Dublin and one in Monaghan went off within a short period of time, killing a total of 33 people. Taken as a single attack, this death toll made them the single most lethal outrage of the Troubles, and one which deliberately targeted civilians without any warning at all. There is no bombing conducted by the PIRA that was directly comparable to them. Indeed, the contrast with the PIRA’s approach to bombings, especially in later years (prioritising economic damage, and delivering very careful warnings) is striking, and extremely instructive. We take them as strong supporting evidence for the following claim: that the loyalist paramilitaries were more ruthless than the republican paramilitaries.
Why should this have been the case? Three obvious reasons present themselves, and all are potentially instructive with respect to the conflict we are likely to end up in with Muslims in the UK. Of course, it is possible that there are deep cultural reasons that loyalists were more ruthless than republicans during the conflict, but we are unaware of them, and feel that much can be explained without recourse to such explanations.
The first reason for the greater ruthlessness of loyalists is that the UVF and the UDA were not able to identify the republican paramilitaries they would most like to have struck at. Thus, when NI seemed to be disintegrating in 1972, and when the possibility of being dragged into a united Ireland seemed very real, they were left with a choice between leaving matters to the security forces (who, to put it mildly, were not exactly on top of the situation in the early 70s), or to strike at Catholic civilians in an attempt to pressurise the PIRA into bringing a halt to its own campaign. Of course, it would have been far more effective to kill PIRA members themselves, but how were paramilitaries without effective intelligence-gathering arms to accomplish what was often a very difficult task for the British state itself? The PIRA could target the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), and the British Army and maintain a stance to the effect that it was waging a war against the British state. But there was no equivalent option for loyalist paramilitaries, hence their attacks on civilians.
The second reason, which would have been especially pertinent from the late 70s onwards, is that the PIRA understood by then, at least at leadership level, that its early 1970s objective of forcing British forces out of NI through physical force alone was untenable. What this meant was that any conceivable withdrawal of those forces would have to take place, eventually, on the basis of a process that was at least partly political. This in turn could not happen if the PIRA was seen by the British as a viciously sectarian murder gang, as it would have been impossible for the British government to negotiate with such a force. When loyalist sectarian killing flared up again in the late 80s, PIRA members were expressly forbidden from retaliating in kind for this reason. However, there were no similar restrictions on the behaviour of loyalist paramilitaries, who were fighting not to overturn a status quo, but to preserve it. For most of the conflict, they had little interest in presenting themselves as being a reasonably ‘civilized’ political force with whom one might do business, or for whom one might vote.
The third reason was that there was a strong strain of non-sectarian thinking in the PIRA and its supporters that, though not universal or always observed, was obviously widespread and genuine. The PIRA was fighting for a British withdrawal from Ireland, subsequent to which NI would be incorporated into a united Ireland. This would obviously entail the Protestant population of NI becoming the fellow Irish citizens of the rest of the Irish, north and south of the border, a development hardly likely to result in a harmonious state of affairs if Protestants had good reason to believe they would be subjected to homicidal antipathy by those fellow citizens. This is not to suggest that there was no sectarian feeling amongst PIRA members, only that an ideological opposition to sectarianism was a strong force amongst PIRA leaders. In contrast, the UVF and UDA were battling to keep NI in the UK and to keep Protestants in a dominant position therein. They were not trying to win friends amongst the Catholic population, and had no particular need to be esteemed by them.
All of these factors contributed, we can be reasonably confident, to the way in which the ruthlessness of the loyalist paramilitaries seems, on the whole, to have outstripped that of the IRA. The purely sectarian killing campaigns that the UVF and UDA launched in the early 1970s and that peaked around 1976 consisted largely of the killing of civilians identified as Catholics in whatever fashion. Though the paramilitaries in question often described their victims as ‘IRA men,’ to themselves and others, it was clear at the time that this was almost entirely a fig leaf for outright sectarian murder.
In the light of the foregoing considerations, can we make any predictions as to the type and severity of the violence likely to be perpetrated by paramilitary organizations in our own conflict? We feel we can, though sadly none of them provide any grounds for optimism.
Two observations offer themselves at the outset: a) Muslims engaged in politically-motivated violence seem to have virtually no psychological barriers to the mass killing of civilians, and b) British paramilitaries will be in a position much closer to that of the loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles than the republican paramilitaries, and must therefore be expected to be exposed to a similar set of incentives and pressures with respect to their own violent activities. Taken together, these two factors make it highly probable that any prolonged conflict between British and Muslim paramilitaries will descend, perhaps quickly, into the outright indiscriminate killing of those perceived to be on the other side.
During the Troubles, both sides directed their violence at adults, particularly men, when possible. Sectarian killings usually targeted men, and children were only ever injured or killed by bombings, which are indiscriminate by their very nature. Even the most notorious sectarian killings, in which workmen were taken off buses and shot (the Kingsmill massacre, carried out by the PIRA) or discos machine-gunned (the Greysteel massacre, carried out by the UDA), either killed men or targeted the type of establishment likely to be occupied by men (pubs, etc., which were a preferred target for ‘spray jobs’). Never did either side ever target a school, or a group of women. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a small and exceptionally violent republican paramilitary group, did carry out a shooting at a Pentecostal church in County Armagh in 1983. However, this was apparently not sanctioned by the INLA leadership, and there were no other such attacks on churches by either side that we are aware of throughout the entire conflict.
British paramilitaries are largely of the same cultural DNA as the paramilitaries that were party to the Troubles and could be expected to conduct themselves similarly if faced with similar opponents. However, Muslims have a cultural DNA all their own, as we have already shown, and this bodes ill for our Muslim Troubles. Though it is probable that, in the early stages of the conflict, British paramilitaries will make at least some attempts to focus their attacks on adult Muslim males, any indiscriminate attacks on British targets that include large numbers of women and children will likely shred whatever restraint British paramilitaries may have felt inclined to exercise in this regard. We observe that the three reasons given for the greater ruthlessness of the loyalist paramilitaries above will all obtain in our Muslim Troubles: British paramilitaries will find it difficult to identify key figures in Muslim paramilitaries, British paramilitaries will not be aiming for a negotiated settlement with Muslims in which they must present themselves as being ‘civilized,’ and British paramilitaries will not be looking to a political future in which they and Muslims cooperate amicably subsequent to the creation of a new political reality. Rather, British paramilitaries will consider themselves, accurately in our opinion, to be resisting the dispossession of their people by a hostile, religiously-motivated tribe that can create only violence, savagery and madness. Psychological restraints on their violence will therefore be weak to begin with, and must be expected to disappear entirely if Muslims act in the way that they always seem to.
Part Four: The Military and the Paramilitaries
|7.||Strictly speaking, ammonium nitrate is an explosive in its own right, but is so insensitive as to make it virtually impossible to use on its own.|
|8.||In principle, one could use primary explosives alone to do this, but one would have to use such large amounts as to create an unacceptable risk of untimely detonation.|
|9.||TATP is apparently referred to as the Mother of Satan in Muslim terrorist circles due to its exceptional sensitivity and the great danger that therefore accompanies its use.|
|10.||The UDA was a legal organization for most of its existence, unlike the UVF. However, its paramilitary arm, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), was proscribed. The UFF was essentially a badge of convenience used by that relatively small part of the UDA that actually carried out bombings and shootings. Writings on the Troubles will sometimes refer to an attack as having been conducted by the UDA and sometimes as having been conducted by the UFF, but they can be considered equivalent for our purposes, in that the UFF was a part of the UDA.|
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