NORTHERN IRELAND Why did IRA change its mind?
Most analysts are hesitant to overstate 9/11's impact.
LONDON (AP) -- Britain's decades-long struggle with the Irish Republican Army appears to be coming to a close as the country confronts the threat of Islamic terrorism on its home soil.
Analysts say this month's London bombings almost certainly did not directly influence the IRA's dramatic announcement Thursday that it was ending its war against Britain. But the new reality of terror groups willing to carry out carnage on an indiscriminate scale may be causing Europe's paramilitary movements to change tack.
A key concern may be the urge for such movements to establish a moral distinction between themselves and the new breed of terrorists.
"Until 9/11 there was a great debate about freedom fighters and terrorism, but now there is a sharp division between the two," said Michael Swetnam of the Potomac Institute of Policy Studies, in Arlington, Va. "Now a terrorist is an evil person who kills people, and using the tactics of terror is becoming very unpopular with the freedom fighters of the world."
The IRA killed and maimed thousands of people in a 35-year campaign against British rule. In a carefully timed announcement, the outlawed group renounced violence as a political weapon and ordered an end to its armed campaign.
Analysts agree the timing of the statement probably had nothing to do with the July 7 mass-transit suicide bombings in London, which killed 56 people including the four attackers. The statement had long been in planning and was a direct response to an appeal in April by Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party.
But some historians and analysts believe the political climate following the Sept. 11 attacks helped nudge the IRA toward a peaceful resolution.
Magnus Ranstorp, at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the Sept. 11 attacks put the IRA "on the back foot," and there were strong signals from the White House that violence would not be condoned.
Ranstorp said groups like the IRA and ETA -- the Basque separatist group in Spain which has killed more than 800 people since 1968 in its campaign for an independent state -- had "red lines" they would not cross.
"The backlash would be so severe that their own supporters would turn against them" if attacks were too bloody, he said of those groups. The threat posed by Islamic extremists, however, was "limitless depending on how much explosives they can get."
Swetnam drew a distinction between "practical terrorists" with political goals and aims and what he called "apocalyptic terrorists," with whom it was impossible to negotiate.
"The only way we could satisfy Osama bin Laden is not by leaving the Middle East, by leaving Iraq or Saudi Arabia, but by leaving the planet," he said.
Brian Feeney, a former councilor and member of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labor Party, cautioned against overstating the influence of the Sept. 11 attacks. He noted the IRA had declared an open-ended truce back in 1997, and Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had "actively wanted to bring the campaign to an end" for many years.
Still, he said, the attacks on the United States definitely had an impact.
"It did have an effect on the IRA. Their first act of decommissioning was very shortly after 9/11," he told The Associated Press, referring to the scrapping of the IRA's weapons stockpile.
Under terms of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, the IRA was supposed to have fully disarmed in cooperation with international inspectors by mid-2000, but it did not start the process until October 2001.
The IRA killed some 1,775 people from 1970 to 2005, wounded several thousand more in shootings and explosions, and devastated scores of towns and cities in Northern Ireland and England with bombings.