‘Jihadi’ Jack Letts Parents’ Conviction for Funding Terrorism: Just or Unfair?

John Letts and Sally Lane

Following a lengthy trial in the UK, on the 21st June 2019 John Letts and Sally Lane were convicted for the terrorism funding offence of making funding arrangements (section 17 Terrorism Act 2000). This conviction received widespread media coverage in the UK. The main reason for this is both are parents of a 23 year old male, Jack Letts, who went to Syria to join the terrorist organisation, Islamic State (IS). Both received a 15 months custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years. The couple were tried on three counts of making funding arrangements, but were only convicted on one count, with the jury finding them not guilty on the second count and unable to reach a verdict on the third count. The value of the count they were convicted for was £223. As stated, the case received widespread UK media coverage and I gave a number of interviews to provide expert commentary to the BBC and independent broadcasters. One may wonder why this case received such media attention. This blog post will address this and assess both the offence of making funding arrangements and the sentencing guidelines provided to the judicary for offences related to terrorism funding.

Jack Letts

John Letts and Sally Lane are a typical decent middle class couple who have lived what many would perceive as a normal life. Both work, had a family and have been a law abiding couple having no previous convictions. Their son, Jack Letts, converted to Islam when he was 16 years old and when he was 17 years old he went to study in the Middle East, which his parents funded. Shortly after Jack’s arrival in the Middle East his parents did not hear from him and evidence emerged that he was associating with IS extremists, something that Jack Letts confirmed to his parents when he told them he had joined other IS recruits in Raqqa, the capital of IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate. In essence these events became newsworthy because Jack Letts came from a white middle class family, converted to Islam at a young age, albeit with his parents’ support, and decided to join IS, a group that is known to be an extremist Islamist group with a vile, warped and violent ideology, hence why some of the printed media dubbed Letts as ‘Jihadi Jack’.

IS flag

IS have not solely killed Christians, citizens from western states and homosexuals, IS have killed more Muslims that any other terrorist group and had a pogrom against Yazidis (whose religion is a cross between Christianity and Islam) who IS saw as devil worshippers. In one interview I gave for the BBC, I was part of discussion with a close friend of Letts and Lane during which he claimed there was no evidence of Jack Letts fighting with IS and that due to Assad’s regime in Syria bombing Aleppo, he joined IS for humanitarian reasons. Knowing what we do about IS, I suggest there is a degree of naivety regarding this claim. As I said in my interviews on this point, if Jack Letts wanted to carry out humanitarian work he should have joined the official groups. This had its danger as we saw with Alan Henning from the UK who was with official aid agencies when he was captured by IS and later beheaded by IS’ Emwazi (also from the UK and nicknamed ‘Jihadi John’).

Terrorism-Act-2000

Regarding the facts in Letts and Lane’s trial a great deal of sympathy has been shown for the couple.  I think this is reflected in the verdicts the jury delivered and the sentence passed by the judge at their trial. I know being a parent myself, regardless of their age, they are still your children and as parents you still support and help them.

The offence they were tried for is funding arrangements under section 17 Terrorism Act 2000 that states it is an offence to:

‘…enter into or become concerned in the arrangement as a result of which money or other property is made available to another or he knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that it will or may be used for the purposes of terrorism’.

The offence is a serious one carrying a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

As stated, the jury found Letts and Lane not guilty of section 17 in relation to attempting to send £1,000 to Jack Letts in December 2015 and unable to return a verdict regarding the attempt by Lane to send £500 to him in January 2016. The couple were sending Jack Letts money under the belief that it may help him survive, even escape from Raqqa and IS. Jack Letts told his parents that any money they sent him would not go on ‘jihad’, advising them if they sent the money to come up with a cover story. In September 2015 the couple did send £223 to Jack Letts’ contact in London.

Although they received conflicting messages from Jack Letts, some regarding the West dying in IS rage for its actions, other messages pleaded for help as he stated he was doubting IS’ ideology and beliefs and that he wanted to return home to the UK. In informing the police of this, the police, two independent experts, an academic specialising in this area and a professional de-radicaliser advised Letts and Lane not to send any money to Jack Letts. This may due to IS not allowing its members to own personal property and any money received by its members, IS would not allow them to keep, seeing it as property of IS. Ignoring this advice they tried to do so.  Although one junior liaison police officer did suggest they send Jack money if it would help his escape, this was ill advised advice and a mistake.

Taking all the facts together, it appears the jury did find sufficient evidence to show beyond reasonable doubt that Letts and Lane were guilty of the first count regarding the sending the £223, but not the other counts. In passing sentence, the trial judge did say of Letts and Lane that they were, ‘…two perfectly decent people … in custody because of the love of their child’. This leads to the sentencing guidelines for financing terrorism trial judges have to follow. In March 2018 new sentencing guidelines on terrorism offences were published by the Sentencing Council, where the Council Chairman said that terrorist offences are among the most serious that come before the courts, adding:
‘As well as the threat to people’s lives, terrorist activity threatens the way society operates.’

Old Baily

The guidelines have a number of steps a trial judge must consider before reaching their decision. These includes assessing the culpability and harm associated with the facts of the case. It appears in Letts and Lane’s case, under culpability they performed a limited function under direction and under harm, the couple’s actions would only make a minor contribution for furthering terrorism. Another step judges take is assessing the aggravating and mitigating factors. Examining the aggravating factors related to Letts and Lane the only factor pertinent is their failure to respond to warnings. In mitigation, clearly the couple’s previous good character and not having previous convictions allowed the trial judge to pass a suspended sentence.

In conclusion, both Letts and Lane appear to have received sympathy for their plight by both the jury and the trial judge, as well as wider society. However, while some may see even the convictions as harsh, from the facts of the case Letts and Lane received advice from experts and practitioners not to send money to Jack Letts. Although the amount is small that led to the conviction, an acquittal would send a precedence for others not so ‘innocent’ to use in order to evade conviction for a serious offence. The circumstances Letts and Lane faced are difficult for any parent, but taking an objective view, as this case shows, sometimes tough love is needed.

My terrorism book cover

In relation to IS and the UK offences under funding terrorism, you can find more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’

 

My Book ‘Terrorism and State Surveillance of Communications’

My book with Simon

My book ‘Terrorism and State Surveillance of Communications’ co-written with Simon Hale-Ross has been published this week and is available for purchase. It contains chapters from practitioners, academics with practitioner experience and academics who research and write in this area. Click on the link for more details.

 

Derry Disorder, Irish Republican Terrorism, Lyra McKee murder: The UK’s Forgotten Terrorist Activity?

Derry riots April 2019Lyra McKee

In the evening of Thursday 18th April 2019 disorder broke out in the Creggan area of Derry. While the PSNI were carrying our searches for weapons and explosives trouble broke out with vehicles being set alight and petrol bombs thrown at PSNI vehicles and officers. During this disorder a New IRA gunman came around a corner and fired shots indiscriminately towards the PSNI, tragically killing the journalist Lyra McKee who was reporting in the incident.

Rasharkin pipe bomb

This tragic event follows closely behind two separate pipe bomb attacks on the 17th April 2019. One was in in Armagh where two devices exploded, the second in the small village of Rasharkin, Antrim where a pipe bomb was thrown into the window of a home in the village with a second left on the home’s windowsill. Also on the 17th April a 49 year old male was arrested in Strabane, Tyrone by the PSNI for terrorism related offences linked to the INLA and suspicion of blackmail and being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs.

IRA unfinished revolution derry

The killing of Lyra McKee is being reported as a top news story by the British media, but regarding the other incidents the British media were relatively silent. This raises the question if terrorist activity, in particular activity by dissident republicans in the six northern counties of Ireland that is part of the UK has become the forgotten UK terrorist activity in the island of Britain? Understandably the main terrorist threat facing the whole of the UK emanates from Islamist inspired activity, followed by activity by the extreme far-right (mainly in Britain). It is predominantly Islamist inspired activity that resulted in the UK terrorist threat level being at severe (an attack is highly likely) from the international terrorist threat. In the North of Ireland the terrorist threat level is also severe and that includes from ‘Northern Ireland related terrorism’, where for Britain this particular threat is moderate (an attack is possible but not likely). How long will it be before the threat to the whole of the UK the threat of North of Ireland terrorism is severe?

london letter bombs

In March 2019 letter bombs were received in various London locations, where it is suspected a person linked to or on behalf of the New IRA were responsible. As I have stated in my previous blog posts covering the terrorist activity in the North of Ireland, dissident Irish republican groups be it the New IRA, the INLA or Continuity IRA are desirous of carrying out attacks in Britain. While these groups’ logistical capability to do so my be limited at the moment, especially in relation to sympathisers providing logistical support in Britain, there are members of dissident republican groups who from the 1968-1998 Troubles have vast experience in bomb making and firearms use, as well as operating in Britain. Since reporting in my blog posts on the rise of dissident Irish republican group activity over the last few years, I predicted there would be a rise in republican based terrorism and violence in the North and there is an increasing possibility these activities will cross the Irish Sea to Britain.

saoradh

The reason behind the increase in dissident republican activity includes the exploitation of the inactivity in the Assembly in Stormont that is currently suspended due to the impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Another reason is in relation to Brexit where republican groups and their political wings like the New IRA’s Saoradh are exploiting the potential problems a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic would pose. As I have stated in previous blog posts on this subject, Saoradh and the New IRA in particular are using this to fuel discontent among the Catholic, nationalist community with calls for the 32 counties to be reunited and come under the governance of the Dail in Dublin. In turn, there is no way would loyalist groups like the UDA, UVF and UFF and political parties like the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the DUP would ever contemplate that happening. One result would be an increase in loyalist violence.

ira_with_flags2ira creggan

At the time of writing it is Easter weekend and there will be a number of parades and commemorations regarding the 1916 Easter Rising. Already in certain locations in the North parades have been planned without the permission of the PSNI. This is a legal requirement and in virtually most cases those submitting their parade plans will be granted authority by the PSNI to do so. Groups like Saoradh have not carried out this legal requirement and I suspect this is to fuel further discontent and violence as the PSNI will attempt to prevent illegal parades taking place. Marching is a sensitive issue in the North of Ireland, which we have seen during the marching season in July.

While quite rightly Northern Irish politicians have condemned the killing of Lyra McKee and the violence in Derry last night, I would like to see the DUP and Sinn Fein do more that pass commentary and take positive action. This includes putting aside their differences and rather than be self-serving, they work with the other political parties for the benefit of all in the North. Reading the DUP and Sinn Fein response to the murder of Lyra McKee, I feel it is easy to give platitudes, but I would rather like to see positive action coming from the two largest parties in the North to work together with the other parties to diffuse the tensions and discontent that exists in certain areas.

Steve sdlp pic

On the 2nd May local elections are being held in the North and now is the time of the North of Ireland electorate to send a positive message to the DUP and Sinn Fein and shun their traditional political allegiances and cast their vote for the SDLP, Alliance and UUP parties. It will not stop the violence overnight, but it would be a start by the people to tell the DUP and Sinn Fein that they are fed up with inactivity and want political action. Another action the people can take is holding demonstrations like they did in Omagh when the PSNI officer Ronan Kerr was murdered and have a ‘Not in My Name’ protest.

My terrorism book cover

You can read issues related to this post in my book ‘Terrorism: Law & Policy’ published by Routledge

Update: Just as I published this post Saoradh issued a statement justifying the actions of the New IRA gunman where the statement contains the rhetoric of PIRA/Sinn Fein during the Troubles. There can be no justification for this senseless murder.

Update 20th April 2019 – there will be ‘not in our name’ demosntratiosn in Strabane and Derry today around 12 noon. Let’s hope politicians take note of the strength of feeling over the murder of Lyra McKee and the disorder in the Creggan and start working together.

 

Christchurch Terrorist Attack

Christchurch attack1Christchurch attack

All forms of violence are tragic and awful. The threat of extreme far-right and far-right influenced terrorism revealed the devastation it causes was witnessed in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday 15th March 2019 where, to date 49 people have been killed in an attack by a gunman influenced by the extreme far-right. The man’s target was Muslims worshipping at two Christchurch mosques where he indiscriminately shot and killed men, women and children.

METROGRAB:Suspected  Finsbury Park attacker is detained by police and members of the public
Photo credit: Nawaf Atiq/ Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/nawaf.atiq

While all terrorist attacks come as a shock when they happen, this is not the first time we have witnessed the use of small arms or the targeting of those attending a place of worship. Bissonnette, who was influenced by far-right ideology, was convicted in early 2019 for the murder of six Muslims he shot while attending a mosque in Quebec, Canada in 2017. Darren Osbourne was convicted of murder and attempt murder after killing a Muslim and seriously injuring other Muslims attending Finsbury Park Mosque, London after driving a van into worshippers leaving the mosque in June 2017. White supremacist, Dylann Roof, was convicted of murdering nine black worshippers at a church in Carolina, US, when he entered the church and shot them.

Jayda Fransen court case
Deputy leader of the far-right group, Jayda Fransen (centre) and its leader Paul Golding (left), leave Belfast Magistrates’ Court, after she was released on bail after appearing at the court charged over comments about Islam made in a social media posting. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday December 15, 2017. Fransen, 31, has been charged with threatening behaviour over remarks made earlier this week beside a peace wall dividing Catholics from Protestants in the city. See PA story ULSTER Hate. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

I have posted numerous blogs on my website regarding the rise of extreme far-right and far-right inspired violence over the last 18 months. I see two distinct groups here with the extreme far-right, who espouse the national socialist ideology and are neo-Nazis, and the far-right who are generally anti-Islam, anti-immigration and anti-EU (European groups). The violence has ranged from hate crime to, as seen in the UK in June 2016, the killing of a politician, the MP Jo Cox by Thomas Mair who was inspired by neo-Nazi ideology. My work in this area has shown how the rise in populist right wing politics has resulted in the extreme far-right and far-right feeling more comfortable in espousing their message and cause. Also, while one tends to think of the right being nationalist, a degree of internationalisation has occurred where, mainly through current forms of electronic communication, from social media to website support for and encouragement of extreme far-right and far-right activity between similar thinking citizens in various states.. As I have said on many occasions, do not underestimate the threat of the extreme far-right and the far-right.

National Action 2Atomwaffen

My studies revealed a high degree of variance in hate crime and terrorist activity related to the right. The UK is currently the only western state to proscribe extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisations (National Action in December 2016, Scottish Dawn and NS131 in September 2017) and has a statutory definition of hate crime related to race, religion, nationality and sexuality. Canada has a similar statutory provision as the UK regarding hate crime, but the Australian legislation is weak and US is virtually non-existent, with the definition of hate crime being non-statutory and provided by the FBI. One reason for this is politicians do not want to be seen to impinge on freedom of expression. This may also explain with no other state has followed the UK in proscribing certain groups as terrorist organisations. As a result, extreme far-right and far-right groups are open in publicising their cause via various media. For example in the US neo-Nazi groups, although monitored by the likes of the FBI, are actively open. One US group, Atomwaffen, their social media and website contains videos of their members burning the US flag and constitution, training with automatic assault rifles and calling for a race war. Due their glorification and promotion of violence to their cause if they were based in the UK they would be proscribed as a terrorist group.

Maybe, just maybe, this tragic and truly awful attack in Christchurch will have states tightening or introducing hate crime legislation and following the UK by proscribing extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisation to deal with the internationalisation of the right, just as they have rightly done so with Islamist groups.

My terrorism book cover

Your can read more on this area in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’, published by Routledge in 201

London Letter Bombs: Are we seeing dissident Irish Republican attacks return to Britain?

london letter bombs

On Tuesday 5th March 2019 three packages containing explosives were found at Heathrow Airport, City of London Airport and Waterloo Rail Station. The package that was delivered to Heathrow was opened and caught fire, while the other two were unopened and seized by the police. These IED’s were small and placed in a Jiffy bag and posted in a white A4 envelope. To date no one has claimed responsibility for this action.
At the time of writing the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15, were being assisted by the Irish police, An Garda Siochana in the investigation. This is not confirmation dissident republican groups like the New IRA (NIRA) were responsible, but there is a possibility of a connection. As all investigators should do, SO15 are keeping an open mind as to who is responsible for sending the letters. It could be from any extremist group or individuals influenced by an extremist group including Islamists or the far-right, to an individual with no connection whatsoever who simply has a grudge against the recipients.

IRA unfinished revolution derrycar bomb derry jan 2019

 

Since the delivery of the letters developments are increasingly leaning to NIRA as being responsible. Over the last few years NIRA (and its predecessor Real IRA) have been the most active group carrying out violent attacks in the North of Ireland. Their violent activity has increased over the last few years as seen with the car bomb outside Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the shootings in 2018 and 2019. Gardaí intelligence has indicated that for several months NIRA is preparing to ‘ramp up’ its activities in 2019.

BBC-Breakfast-Logobbc radio 5

Supported by NIRA’s political wing, Saoradh, they have used the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations to recruit disillusioned members of the nationalist community in the North to their cause. Emphasising how a hard border demonstrates a degree of contempt by the UK government in Westminster towards the Irish, NIRA recently warned ‘there will be blood’ if a hard border returns between the North and the Republic. The British mainstream media has hardly reported the recent violence in the North by both dissident republicans and loyalists. As seen in the Troubles, a campaign of violence carried out in Britain does bring closer attention to dissident republican’s cause by both national and international mainstream media. I was part of that having given interviews providing commentary over the letter bombs to BBC Breakfast (television) and BBC Radio 5 Live and talkRADIO discussing the potential Irish connection to this incident.

These particular letter explosives were designed to start a small fire, not to cause serious injury, but they have been enough for SO15 to be concerned about the incident. It appears the aim of these letters was to frighten and warn people that they are not safe. It has achieved that, especially with the mainstream media reporting the incident. As I said in my media interviews it has got us talking about it and that is what the sender of the letters wants. This is part of the terror effect, to frighten and warn people.

ira_with_flags2loyalists

As stated, currently it is not known who is responsible and there is the possibility this action was carried out by a person with strong opinions about the recipients of the letters, even as to how Brexit negotiations are panning out who have no connections with terrorist groups. However, reports are increasingly pointing towards NIRA and if this is the case it will emphasise how the whole of the UK is facing a terrorist threat on three fronts, Islamists (that is likely to be enhanced with Islamic State fighters returning to the UK from Syria), the extreme far-right (neo-Nazi’s) and from dissident Irish republican groups. It is of paramount importance the UK, Irish and EU Brexit negotiators find a solution regarding the Irish border issue to maintain the free flow of all Irish citizens between the North and the Republic, thereby removing a political issue that is fuelling dissident Irish republican groups’ cause.

My terrorism book cover

You can read in more detail about terrorism in the North of Ireland in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge

Brexit and the North of Ireland: Are we returning to the Troubles?

IRA Derry

During the UK’s EU referendum campaign how Brexit would impact on the North of Ireland, especially in relation to the Irish border, was an issue not seriously considered in Britain. EU officials may have considered it and if they did they kept their powder dry to use the implications this issue would have at a later stage in Brexit negotiations. As we have seen in the last few months the Irish border issue has become one of the most serious sticking points in progressing the UK’s leaving the EU, especially with EU officials during Brexit negotiations over the last eight months or so. There is no doubt EU officials have used the Irish border issue as a divisive bargaining chip. It could be argued that the border issue was not even thought of as an agenda item in 2016 and it questions why more recently it only did so. This is strange as the Gibraltar question did become part of the early Brexit negotiations.

theresa-mayEU Flag & BrexitLeo-Varadkar-Brexit

While negotiations initially focused on the impact the UK leaving the EU would have on the freedom of movement of goods, services and people, immigration, border controls with continental Europe and issues related to the influence EU law and Court of Justice of the European Union decisions would have on the UK post-Brexit, Ireland seemed not to enter into the equation in the early stages. This is disconcerting as it appears  it was forgotten that the Irish Republic is the only one of 28 Member States with a land border with the UK. I have raised this issue in my previous blog posts as it appears it is only now are British MP’s, mainly the English politicians, waking up to the fact how Brexit can be an instrument to be used by dissident Irish republicans, mainly in the North to destabilise the peace brought about the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. At the time of writing the UK Prime Minister is in Ireland discussing the issue trying to find a resolution. As such, recent dissident republican action has put dissident loyalist groups on alert to prepare for taking action against a united Ireland.

ira_with_flags2

Regarding dissident republican groups, prior to Brexit there has been a steady growth of violent activity that can be traced from the attack on British Army soldiers outside Massereene Barracks in 2009, statement bombings such those outside the MI5 offices in Belfast, car bomb outside Derry’s Strand Road police station in 2010, even the plan to mortar bomb that police station in 2013 and killing of PSNI and prison officers (examples include the killing of Ronan Kerr in 2011 And David Black in 2012). In certain areas of the North support for former dissident republican group the Real IRA (RIRA) never disappeared. For example in Derry’s Creggan area when the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) held Easter Rising commemorations at Creggan Cemetery RIRA members not only attended in paramilitary uniforms, but gave addresses to the attendees. The ten year period of 2009 to 2019 has seen changes in dissident republican movements and groups. In 2012 the New IRA was formed between RIRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and disaffected members of the Provisional IRA. The INLA and Continuity IRA did not join this group and continue to exist in their own right as separate terrorist groups. More recently the far-left political party, Saoradh was formed 2016 and is an amalgamation of groups such as the 32CSM and Republican Network Unity.
car bomb derry jan 2019

As I have reported in my more recent blog posts, Saoradh and the New IRA (and arguably the INLA and CIRA) have taken advantage of Brexit and the Irish border issue to deliberately misinform and use for propaganda purposes in order to incite further unrest and violence. Using the border issue saying that a hard border is evidence of British imperialism on the Irish, they have used the issue to recruit members of the nationalist community to their cause. As such, we have witnessed an increase in dissident republican activity, with the latest being the car bomb outside Derry’s Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the two ‘punishment’ shootings in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry on the 2nd February 2019. Also on the 2nd February an arms cache that included a suspected mortar bomb tube was found by the Gardaí in County Louth close to the border with County Armagh in the North. This in addition to the guns found buried in a cemetery in Derry in January 2019.

uvf

There is no doubting dissident republicans are going to use Brexit as a vehicle to promote unification of all 32 Irish counties under governance from the Dail in Dublin. As such this has put dissident loyalist groups on alert. As one of their Belfast murals says, ‘Prepared for Peace, Ready for War’. While murals are perceived as tourist attractions, recent murals like this on both republican and loyalist sides have a ring of authenticity related to the current situation. This is seen with the number of loyalist shootings and killings in the last 12 months, the latest being Ian Ogle, a spokesman for the loyalist community on the 27th January 2019. These actions on both sides suggests they are preparing for conflict and a return to the Troubles.

Trimble & Hume

One catalyst for this is the very real prospect of a poll being held on Irish unity. If this occurs, never mind a return to the Troubles, its turning the clock back to 1919 and there is no way loyalists want a united Ireland. Even though we have seen an increase in violence, we may still be left of bang regarding the North of Ireland, but if this situation is ignored by British based MP’s, EU officials and, as it appears, not recognised by DUP politicians who are pro-Brexit, very shortly we will be right of bang with an increase in violence. If this occurs all the hard work by the likes of John Hume and David Trimble that brought about peace via the GFA will have gone.

Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’  published by Routledge

My terrorism book cover

Car Bomb Bishop Street Courthouse Derry January 2019

car bomb derry jan 2019

Just after 8pm in the evening on Saturday 19th January 2019 a car bomb exploded outside Derry’s courthouse in Bishop Street. Four men have been arrested in connection to the PSNI’s investigation into the bombing. Fortunately no one was killed or injured, but it could have been different as minutes before the bomb exploded a group of young people walked down Bishop Street next to the car bomb.

car bomb derry jan 2019 1

The PSNI suspect this attack was carried out by the New IRA. Earlier that evening the car was being driven by a pizza delivery man in Quarry Street, Derry and he was hi-jacked at gunpoint by two armed men. The armed men then drove the vehicle to the courthouse and placed the bomb inside the car. Shortly after parking the car a telephone warning was given to the West Midlands Samaritans in England, who then contacted the West Midlands Police, who in turn  informed the PSNI. This has all the similar hallmarks of PIRA’s activity and behaviour during the Troubles.

john boyle

There has been widespread condemnation of the attack from all Northern Irish political parties. Derry’s mayor and SDLP councillor, John Boyle said the city was shocked and saddened and during a media interview told those responsible for carrying out the attack that such actions will not achieve anything.

ira_with_flags2UDA

One question is why are we witnessing such activity that is suspected to be carried out by dissident republican groups? In my earlier blog posts covering dissident activity in the North of Ireland I have explained how fears of a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic post Brexit is playing into the hands of dissident republican groups. (Visit my website drdavidlowe.co.uk) The messages spouted by the republican group Saoradh who use, twist and manipulate various political and economic issues to spread and fuel discontent has had a degree of success. The Bishop Street car bomb should not come as a complete surprise as recently as November 2018 a number of gun attacks were carried out in Derry that were linked to dissident republican paramilitaries. Loyalist groups have also been carrying out acts of violence and in January 2019 four men were convicted in Belfast Crown Court of murdering a man in County Antrim.

irish border

One important issue that must be negotiated with sensitivity and pragmatism is the Brexit backstop plan regarding the Irish border. At the time of writing the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, is reconsidering this issue. In order that the current UK government can secure an agreement in the House of Commons over its Brexit plans, hopefully this will not result in abandoning the backstop plan and result in a hard border, as this has the potential to destabilise the peace process introduced following the Good Friday Agreement. This is not an idle warning, this is based by my research, experience and knowledge of the North of Ireland, in order to secure the current UK government’s position it should not use the six Northern Irish counties as a sacrificial lamb to appease both DUP and English based MP’s. If they do there is a real possibility of the Troubles returning to the North of Ireland.

Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge.

My terrorism book cover