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

Recent Irish Paramilitary Activity: Hardly Reported in Britain

Loyalist mural Derry west bankira flag

To follow on from my earlier blogs related to terrorist activity in the North of Ireland, November 2018 has seen further evidence of paramilitary activity from both republican and loyalist groups. None of this activity has been reported in the British mainstream media. Maybe because Brexit grabs the headlines where the only mention of Ireland is either the border issue or the DUP’s position on the Brexit agreement and the vulnerability of the current UK government. In relation to terrorist activity in Britain, the focus is either on Islamist or extreme far-right activity. This is understandable as the British terrorist threat level is severe, due mainly to the Islamist threat it is facing. As a result, paramilitary activity in the North of Ireland is either ignored or forgotten on the British side of the Irish Sea. In the North of Ireland the terrorist threat level is also severe, but not from Islamist activity, it is from dissident republicans and loyalists.

IRA Derry 1IRA Derry

In November 2018 there have been a number of paramilitary style shootings. On the 15th November a man was shot in the legs in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry and another man was shot in the legs and arms in the Creggan area in Derry on the 16th November. In relation to Derry, these shootings follow where another man in the Creggan area was shot three times in the leg on the 12th September 2018. On the 26th November a community worker narrowly escaped a gun attack by a masked man with a shotgun in Clooneyville Avenue, Derry, which ironically is just a short distance for the Peace Bridge that crosses the River Foyle (but this has yet to be confirmed as being linked to paramilitary activity).

ira_with_flags2IRA unfinished revolution derry

These shootings have all the hallmarks of punishment shootings as witnessed during the 1968-1998 Troubles carried out by paramilitaries as they ‘policed’ their area to eradicate drugs and crime. After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement the group Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) was formed. Consisting mainly of former members of the Provisional IRA, mainly in Counties Derry and Tyrone RAAD members regularly carried out punishment shootings and beatings on those they suspected to be drug dealers or users. RAAD later merged with other dissident republican groups to form the New IRA, where along with other forms of violence the New IRA are still carrying out this type of activity. Currently four New IRA members are on trial at Belfast Crown Court with a Diplock style hearing (that is one without a jury) for being members of a proscribed organisation (the IRA), possession of firearms and conspiracy to inflict grievous bodily harm, where the prosecution produced evidence from covert hearing recordings that allege the four made threats of violence targeting drug dealers in Belfast.

UDAloyalists

The violence carried out in November 2018 has not been solely by dissident republicans as on the 27th November a car dealer in Carrickfergus, County Antrim had six vehicles destroyed by fire following repeated intimidation he received from members of the East Antrim Ulster Defence Association (a loyalist proscribed terrorist organisation).

North of Ireland Map

The point raised here is terrorist related paramilitary violence in the North of Ireland has not gone away. I have covered reasons why this is so in some of my earlier blogs covering the North that I recommend that you read on my website drdavidlowe.co.uk. In summary the reasons have ranged from the potential of a hard Irish border between the North and the Republic of Ireland to not having a period of reconciliation following the Good Friday Agreement. The period of austerity has not helped either with the North’s western counties being among the hardest hit (Counties Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh).

westminsterstormont

There should not only be greater public recognition of the increasing paramilitary violence in the North, but also greater support from the UK government. One way this support could be given is from the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Karen Bradley to work harder in resolving the current DUP/Sinn Fein impasse that has resulted in the Assembly at Stormont being suspended for nearly two years now. During those two years important legislation and decisions related to health, education, housing, employment and improving infrastructure have also been suspended and consequently deteriorated. That has played right into the hands of republican and loyalist paramilitaries and their political wings like the republican Saoradh. It does not help when the current Secretary of State said she little or no knowledge of Northern Irish problems and politics. Such ambivalence, if not pure contempt towards the North of Ireland by the UK government again only plays not only into the hands of the likes of Sinn Fein but also dissident groups, especially the republicans like Saoradh and the New IRA to fuel discontent and violence. One thing that cannot be ignored is that groups like the New IRA would dearly love to carry out a successful terrorist attack in England and I hope it does not result in such an attack happening that makes the UK’s Westminster government take dissident Irish paramilitary violence seriously again, as well the social and economic conditions in the North of Ireland.

My terrorism book cover

You can read some of these issues in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge in 2018

The Terrorist Threats Discussed at the UK’s National Security Summit: How Safe Are We?

Neil Basu

At the UK’s Nation security Summit held in London on the 9th October 2018 the head of national counter-terrorism policing, Neil Basu, warned that one for the greatest terror threats in the UK is by its own citizens who have been radicalised by extremists, in particular Islamists, who are frustrated or aspire to travel abroad to fight with the Islamic State (IS).

London Bridge & Borough Market Attack

There is credence in Basu’s observations as seen in the recent attacks prevented attacks in the UK. For example the London Bridge/Borough Market attack in June 2017 to of the attackers, Khuram Butt and Youssef Zaghba were prevented by authorities from leaving Europe to join IS in Syria/Iraq. In addition to this, another threat is posed by individuals who did fight with IS in Syria/Iraq who have returned to their home state as they will be more experienced in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as potentially in chemical weapons that were used by IS in Syria/Iraq. This threat is not just applicable to the UK, but to states in Europe, North America and other states such as the Philippines where returning fighters are now fighting in the south of the country. This is a global problem.

In relation to terrorists’ use of chemical and biological weapons, Neil Basu correctly states the likes of chlorine and mustard gas was used in Syria/Iraq and terrorists do want to adapt these weapons for use in domestic terrorist attacks. Fortunately, what is problematic for terrorists wanting to use such weaponry is having the facilities for storage and maintaining the chemicals as they have to be stored under controlled conditions. When IS held land in their self-proclaimed caliphate this was possible, but in domestic circumstances where without laboratories it is more difficult. As such, the type of attacks being planned will be low-level attacks we have unfortunately witnessed in Europe with the use of vehicles and sharply bladed instruments such as knives, which we have witnessed still have a devastating effect.

parsons green bombbarcelona terrorist attack 2017

There is also the possibility of terrorists using firearms and improvised explosive devices (IED). In relation to the latter this was seen in the Parsons Green attack in September 2017 and in Barcelona, August 2017, where the former failed to detonate and in the latter the explosives were not handled correctly resulting in the terrorists blowing themselves up in their home. To handle explosives requires a degree of knowledge and experience, which clearly many domestic terrorists do not possess. One cannot be complacent over this as the threat of the use of IED’s is still real. This could come from returning IS fighters and in the case of the UK, current paramilitaries in the North of Ireland from the republican New IRA to loyalist’s groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster freedom Fighters have members who have experience in the use of IED’s from the 1968-1998 Irish Troubles.

National Action 2national action at Liverpool

One must not forget that the terrorist threat does not solely emanate from Islamist inspired terrorism, there is also the threat from far-right groups too, and in the UK from paramilitaries in the North of Ireland. The UK is still the only state to proscribe far-right groups as terrorist organisations and to date these groups have been inspired by the national socialist narrative (National Action, Scottish Dawn and NS 131). Other far-right groups are also being monitored by UK counter-terrorism police and the security services such as Resistance System Network. Again, the terrorist threat far-right groups pose is not unique to the UK, it is prevalent throughout Europe, North America and Australia.

IRA unfinished revolution derrynew IRA

In relation to the UK republican groups in the North of Ireland have been using the impasse regarding the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations to influence an increase in paramilitary activity, in particular the New IRA.

prevent logo

Due to the diversity of terrorist threats, the number of groups and individuals being monitored and the increasing pressure counter-terrorism police and the security services have in keeping us safe is enormous. There are two areas that can help alleviate their workload so as to enable them to focus on the groups and individuals that pose a real threat to our security. First is to allocate more resources from the public and private sectors as well as communities to the Prevent strategy. A pre-criminal strategy, Prevent is aimed at helping individuals who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorist activity. Secondly, we can all play our part by being more vigilant in reporting any activity we see as suspicious. Initiatives in the UK like Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) and the British transport Police’s ‘See it, Say it, Sort it’ are there to help us report anything we suspect is likely to be linked to terrorism and the police will deal with any reports sensitively.

Sputnik logo

I discuss this in more details in my radio interview with Sputnik Radio and many of these themes are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018

My terrorism book cover

Brexit and the Irish Border: A Catalyst to a new Irish Troubles and the Rise of Saoradh

irish border

How the Irish border between the six counties of the North of Ireland and the twenty-six counties of the Irish republic will operate post-Brexit is not just a sticking point in the current Brexit negotiations, it is an issue, which if not resolved, could be the catalyst to a rise in sectarian violence between republicans and loyalists in the North resulting in new Irish Troubles.

saoradh

This observation is not one of being alarmist, there is already a rising undercurrent of discontent in the North. This is exemplified in the rise of a relatively new Irish republican party, Saoradh. Formed in September 2016and backed by New IRA (NIRA) prisoners held in Mughaberry and Portlaoise prisons Saoradh held its first ard fheis in Newry that month. Those who gathered at this first ard fheis (and who subsequently became Saoradh’s member’s and supporters) included those who were associated with the Republican Network for Unity, 32 County Sovereignty Movement (closely aligned with the former Real IRA) and the 1916 societies. Saoradh supporters include notorious members of the IRA in its various forms such as Colin and Paul Duffy. Messages of support were read out from the founder of the Provisional IRA, Billy McKee and Saoradh’s first chairman, David Jordan from Tyrone, was a republican dissident and former prisoner.

Saoradh claims to be solely a revolutionary republican party with no connection to republican paramilitary groups, stating its main aim is to introduce a socialist agenda to support the working class by creating an Irish Socialist Republic, not just in the North but in the whole of Ireland. The party’s main issues include:
1. The end of British imperialist rule in the North;
2. The end of power sharing at Stormont and an end to the Good Friday Agreement;
3. The end of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that the party refers to as the Royal Ulster Constabulary/PSNI.

david jordan

In essence Saoradh supports armed conflict in the North and refers to republican paramilitary prisoners as prisoners of war. David Jordan was charged with the attempted murder of a PSNI officer in Castlederg, Tyrone in 2008, with those charges being dropped by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in October 2016.

While the language Saoradh uses is similar to that used by Sinn Fein during the Troubles, the party is highly critical of Sinn Fein, seeing them as having sold out the republican cause by participating in political institutions such as the Assembly at Stormont (albeit Sinn Fein still maintain an abstentionist stance with Westminster). Saoradh sees the Stormont Assembly as a ‘partitionist assembly’ and does not recognise it, even though the current impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP has resulted in the Assembly being suspended since 2017!

bogside riotssaoradh march

 

While no doubt many will see Saoradh as a minor party of little significance, support for the party was seen in the Bogside riots in July 2018, activity in the Creggan, Derry in April 2018 that led to arrests and also in April 2018 Saoradh organised in Belfast an ‘unfinished revolution’ march where many were dressed in republican paramilitary dress.

Returning to Brexit and the Irish border, Saoradh’s leaders told researchers from Queen’s and Ulster University that Brexit was, ‘manna from heaven from our perspective’. Another of Saoradh’s leaders, Patrick Courty, told its supporters at an Easter Rising commemoration in 2018:

‘Brexit has the potential to break up the British state … with the inevitable infrastructure of a hard border imminent, this will drive home to the Irish people the partition of our country … and as history teaches us it wild inevitably stoke the fires of resistance against British rule in Ireland.’

DUPKaren Bradley

The warning signs are there and although the focus here has been on dissident republicanism, should Saoradh influence republican based violence, such violence will be swiftly reciprocated by Loyalist paramilitary violence. The UK government should be awake to this development as it is too important to marginalise as irrelevant or worse, ignore it. As seen in the UK government’s position regarding the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations the signs are not good. A consequence of not having an overall majority in the House of Commons is the UK government in being a minority government it is being held to ransom on this issue by the DUP MP’s in Westminster. The perspective the current UK government’s view has on the North of Ireland is not perceived by its population and some of Britain’s population as being positive and concerned with the issues affecting the Province. This is not helped with the appointment of Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who on appointment admitted to only having limited knowledge of the North. This ministerial position should be reviewed by the current Prime Minister who should now look for someone who has a good knowledge of Irish history, Northern Irish politics and social issues. This is a country that is suffering the most in the UK especially in the western counties of Derry and Tyrone where there is widespread poverty, high unemployment, poorer standards of social housing and healthcare as well as a lack of investment in the area regarding both its infrastructure and in encouraging new business. A Northern Ireland minister who is aware of these issues could do more to assist in these areas as well as work on breaking the impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the Assembly at Stormont so elected representatives can pass legislation and work towards improving the lives of all Northern Irish people. If this is not done then it simply plays into the hands of the paramilitaries on both sides and their political parties like Saoradh who will spark more widespread paramilitary violence once more.

Irsih Troubles figures

The lessons of the 1960’s must be learnt to stop the rise of extremist groups and paramilitary support in the North as ambivalence towards the North of Ireland in Westminster could result in the country suffering another period of violence.

My terrorism book cover

Some of these issues are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018 by Routledge