The world’s most irrelevant terrorists

Not that terrorism is ever defensible as a political tactic, but it’s at least possible to determine the political motivation behind a terrorist attack.  That’s not really true of the Real IRA’s latest bombing, carried out just hours before London relinquished control of Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system: The Real IRA splinter group admitted responsibility ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images
PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images
PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images

Not that terrorism is ever defensible as a political tactic, but it's at least possible to determine the political motivation behind a terrorist attack.  That's not really true of the Real IRA's latest bombing, carried out just hours before London relinquished control of Northern Ireland's criminal justice system:

The Real IRA splinter group admitted responsibility for forcing a Belfast cabbie to drive the bomb to the gates of Palace Barracks, the high-security home of the anti-terrorist agency MI5 in Northern Ireland.

Senior police officers said the bomb could easily have killed or maimed civilians living beside the base in Holywood, a prosperous Belfast suburb, but for the bravery of the taxi driver. He had been ordered by three dissident gunmen to deliver the bomb to the base and not raise any alarm - or else he or his family members would be executed. But police said the man, who was not publicly identified, shouted "It's a bomb!" as soon as he parked outside a perimeter entrance.

Not that terrorism is ever defensible as a political tactic, but it’s at least possible to determine the political motivation behind a terrorist attack.  That’s not really true of the Real IRA’s latest bombing, carried out just hours before London relinquished control of Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system:

The Real IRA splinter group admitted responsibility for forcing a Belfast cabbie to drive the bomb to the gates of Palace Barracks, the high-security home of the anti-terrorist agency MI5 in Northern Ireland.

Senior police officers said the bomb could easily have killed or maimed civilians living beside the base in Holywood, a prosperous Belfast suburb, but for the bravery of the taxi driver. He had been ordered by three dissident gunmen to deliver the bomb to the base and not raise any alarm – or else he or his family members would be executed. But police said the man, who was not publicly identified, shouted "It’s a bomb!" as soon as he parked outside a perimeter entrance.

Twenty minutes later, officers were still evacuating elderly couples and families from nearby houses when the bomb detonated, showering the roofs and front yards with shrapnel and debris but hitting nobody.

It’s become a political cliche to describe terrorist attacks as "cowardly," but it’s hard to think of another word for kidnapping a taxi driver’s family and forcing him to drive your bomb into a residential neighborhood. The incompetence and rarity of the Real IRA’s attacks make them unlikely to inspire widespread terror in the population, but their callousness and political tone-deafness make them unlikely to win any sympathy.

Plus, mainstream Republican politicians like onetime IRA commander turned Deputy Prime Minister Martin McGuiness don”t seem to have any reluctance to criticize the group’s actions, calling them "a waste of time, totally futile, because the political landscape has changed forever."

Probably time to pack it in. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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