Three lessons Britain learned fighting the IRA

Many commentators are afraid that if the British government declares war on homegrown Islamic terrorists and get pro-active rather than reactive that it will make the situation worse. This fear may be based on what happened after ‘Bloody Sunday’ when soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, shot dead 13 unarmed Catholic civilians taking part in a civil rights march in Londonderry.

An operation that went terribly and fatally wrong – the shootings took barely 30 minutes but their impact was seismic on the fortunes of the PIRA. As a result of Bloody Sunday hundreds of young people joined the IRA, eager to seek revenge for the murders they believed the British army had committed and the cover-up they were convinced had been perpetrated by Lord Widgery. Bloody Sunday gave the PIRA the biggest boost in its history.

Mural by the Bogside Artists depicting all who were killed by the British Army on the day

Britain has learned that lesson the hard way. Shooting unarmed civilians can have the effect of massively boosting public sympathy for the terrorists’ cause and will make it easier for them to find new jihadist recruits.

Bloody Friday

After the collapse of an IRA truce, 19 bombs exploded in Belfast on Bloody Friday

On this day, the IRA detonated 19 bombs in and around Belfast city centre killing 9 people and injuring The IRA insisted that ample warnings had been given and the intention was not to kill civilians – however the warnings were inadequate and imprecise…Ten days after Bloody Friday, in the biggest British military operation since Suez, 12,000 soldiers with bulldozers and tanks entered what were considered the no-go areas of the province.

A second lesson learned is that when terrorists slaughter civilians the government are less likely to be condemned if soon after the attack they take decisive action. No-go zones in Britain could be subjected to military invasion if the terrorists came from their community. The rule of British law needs to be reestablished and a terror attack is a great excuse for sending the military in to sort out what are essentially mini-Islamic states inside Britain where police are afraid to enter.

SAS Margaret Thatcher

Operation Flavius

…was a controversial military operation in which three members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) were shot dead by the British Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988. The three—Seán Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell—were believed to be mounting a bombing attack on British military personnel in Gibraltar. Plain-clothed SAS soldiers approached them in the forecourt of a petrol station, then opened fire, killing them. All three were found to be unarmed, and no bomb was discovered in Savage’s car, leading to accusations that the British government had conspired to murder them. An inquest in Gibraltar ruled that the SAS had acted lawfully

From late 1987, the British authorities were aware that the IRA was planning to detonate a bomb at the changing of the guard ceremony outside the governor’s residence in the British Dependent Territory of Gibraltar. When Savage, McCann and Farrell—known IRA members—travelled to Spain in preparation for the attack, they were tracked at the request of the British government.

… As soldiers were moving into position to intercept the trio, Savage split from McCann and Farrell and began running south. Two soldiers pursued Savage while two approached McCann and Farrell; as they did so, the pair were said to make threatening movements, as a result of which the soldiers opened fire, shooting them multiple times. As soldiers caught up with Savage, he was alleged to have turned around to face them while reaching into his jacket; he was also shot multiple times. All three were subsequently found to be unarmed…

…On 30 September, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “lawful killing“….The decision is cited as a landmark case in the use of force by the state.

Lesson three is that while there will always be trial by media it is possible to kill unarmed terrorists to prevent a terrorist attack and for it to be found to be lawful. Currently, jihadists are counting on the fact that the authorities won’t act until the jihadist is actually halfway through slitting a person’s throat. If the military can arrest or shoot them BEFORE they hurt people Britain will be in a stronger position in the war against terrorism.


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