Electronic Telegraph The Daily Telegraph - Comment and Opinion
Wednesday 21 Nov 2001
Issue number 45566
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There's no such thing as a 'good' terrorist, Mr Blair

By Iain Duncan Smith and David Trimble


IMAGINE, for a moment, two scenes. The first is a busy Saturday afternoon in a market town in the United Kingdom, packed with shoppers. Shortly after 3pm, with no apparent warning, a bomb explodes, leaving 29 people murdered and hundreds more injured. The second takes place in America, when two hijacked planes, again with no warning, fly into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, killing thousands and injuring many more.

The comparison does not end there. In both cases, the killed and injured were going about their ordinary daily business. Among the dead were nationals from more than one country.

Of course, one difference between these two atrocities - one that took place in Omagh on August 15, 1998 and the other in New York on September 11 - is scale. Of course, many more people were killed in the World Trade Centre, and at the Pentagon, than at Omagh. The other difference is that one took place in our own country, the other abroad. Yet there the differences end. We should not forget, however, that some 3,600 people have been killed as a result of terrorism associated with Northern Ireland.

These two acts illustrate a point that we have both made repeatedly since September 11. There is not, and never can be, any moral distinction made between terrorists or terrorism. What happened in America is the same as that which has been carried out in the United Kingdom, and in particular in Northern Ireland.

Osama bin Laden and his followers are no different from those who planned and carried out Omagh, Warrenpoint, Hyde Park, Enniskillen or countless other atrocities during some 30 years of terrorism in Ulster. It follows that there should be no question of recognising, or creating in law, different categories of terrorist organisation.

Yet this is precisely what this Government has done. It did so first within the United Kingdom when, immediately after Omagh, Parliament was recalled to pass emergency anti-terrorist legislation. Measures were introduced that apply to illegal terrorist groups that are not, in the Government's view, "maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire", but not to those illegal groups that are. The Government repeated this distinction in the Terrorism Act last year. It has established the concept of "good" and "bad" terrorists. We utterly reject this.

Now, in the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Bill, currently before Parliament, the Government has taken this further. The Bill creates a distinction between international and domestic terrorists and groups, and introduces different penalties for them. Specifically, the Bill states that: "International terrorism does not include terrorism concerned only with the affairs of a part of the United Kingdom." There could hardly be a more obvious device to exclude terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. What would be the response if an Arab or Basque terrorist working on behalf of an Irish republican group were involved in bombing an English city?

This cannot be justified. The links between international terrorists and Irish republicans are well established. In August, three senior republicans were apprehended in Colombia, suspected of collaborating with the narco-terrorist group Farc. Much of the IRA's arsenal results from its connections with the Arab world, specifically Libya. Prominent members of the Basque separatist movement, Eta, have been regular visitors to republican conferences over the years.

In many respects, the IRA has been the prototype for global terrorists and the organisation from which they have drawn encouragement. It was the IRA that perfected the murder of innocent civilians for political gain, in "spectaculars" such as Bloody Friday, La Mon and Enniskillen. It was an IRA commander, Brendan "Bic" McFarlane - famous for machine-gunning civilians trying to escape the bar he had bombed - who wanted to bring down Concorde with a Sam-7.

Like other terrorist organisations the world over, republicans and so-called loyalists in Northern Ireland thrive on organised crime. The bulk of their finances comes from the millions they make through racketeering, smuggling petrol and cigarettes, and by sanctioning the sale of drugs, from which they cream off huge profits.

There is no difference between the illicit trade in drugs that helps to finance al-Qa'eda and that which sustains the activities of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. The Government has rightly responded to the threat to our security posed by bin Laden. We support the move to introduce new powers - as we would any effective anti-terrorist measures. Yet these measures should apply equally to all those suspected of involvement in terrorism. That should include organisations in the United Kingdom.

Terrorist organisations within the United Kingdom remain both active and highly capable. Even with the welcome first act of decommissioning by the Provisional IRA, Ireland remains awash with arms and explosives. In recent days, the arrests of individuals suspected of being involved with the Real IRA have reminded us of their clear intent to commit terrorist atrocities.

Senior republicans, shaken by the response to the events of September 11, are trying desperately to justify the campaign waged by the IRA over 30 years. Gerry Adams, speaking in New York recently, claimed that "those who support us know the difference between what's been happening in Ireland and what happened in this city on September 11".

Most people will treat those words with justified contempt. Our fear, however, is that the Government risks giving a spurious legitimacy to this distinction. By creating different classes of terrorist, the danger is that all terrorists will be encouraged to believe that, if only they persist, sooner or later they will succeed. That is why, at this late stage, we urge the Government to think again and end the anomaly that it has created.

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