- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Are we at war with terrorism, or just with a few particular terrorists? If we are at war with terrorism, how can we differentiate between al Ada and its cousin, the Philippine abu-Say? We can't, of course, except by the size of the threat they pose. The questions don't end there, and the answers are hitting closer to home. How can we distinguish between the Colombian ARC narco-terrorists and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) that is training them? Evidence accumulating around the world indicates that we can't.

Americans' image of the IRA was formed in simpler days. In John Wayne's "The Quiet Man," the IRA character was one of those tweedy guys at the local pub who smoked a pipe and only once even hinted at violence. For decades, we have turned a blind eye toward IRA violence and permitted friends of IRA "freedom fighters" to raise money here. Now, mounting evidence from several countries proves that tolerance terribly wrong. IRA operations in many trouble spots around the world make them an accomplice to the actions of some of the world's worst terrorists. If our intelligence reports confirm this, we must act promptly and decisively to label the IRA a terrorist organization under U.S. law the same way and with the same effect as we have labeled other terrorist groups.

When Michael Collins and others formed the IRA in 1919, it was small and united. A dozen or so years later, with Collins and many of the other original members dead, the IRA split into the "Stickies" the old Collins gang who stuck to the goal of independence and the Provisionals, or "Provos," who were less focused on independence and more intent on creating chaos. The IRA still has two faces, the "peaceful" Sinn Fein, and the Provos. The Provos are further divided into factions, some of which apparently are trying to resume their terror bombing campaign in Northern Ireland.

Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, promising to disarm and become part of the regular government. The Provos are also supposedly part of the peace process. Sinn Fein has twice decommissioned substantial quantities of arms and explosives. But their good faith is much in doubt. A group that may be connected to Sinn Fein is buying quantities of Russian AN-94 assault rifles, and attempting to smuggle guns from the United States. Disarming, to them, means trading old weapons for others that are newer and more capable. The IRA's supporters here say this is not America's business. But a flood of evidence shows that the Provos have become a very active part of the international terrorist network. Their involvement in Colombia, Cuba, Spain (helping the Basque ETA terrorists) and now in the West Bank makes them our business.

Colombian Gen. Fernando Tapias told a congressional hearing last week that the Provisional IRA had sent at least seven people to Colombia to train FARC terrorists in making mortars and bombs. Last August, Colombian forces captured three men attempting to slip out of FARC-controlled territory. Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley have since been charged with training FARC terrorists. Mr. Connolly was the IRA's man in Havana, where he lived for five years before going to Colombia. Among the things they were training FARC to make are a land mine known as the "Chinese hat" and pipe bombs. Sinn Fein denies it sent these people to Colombia. It may be telling the truth, and it may not. Padraic Wilson, who had been the IRA's commander in the British Maze Prison and is a close friend of Gerry Adams, was reportedly photographed entering Colombia on a false passport. If this is confirmed, it will mean that Mr. Adams is more like Yasser Arafat than he is like Alexander Hamilton.

Beyond Colombia, new evidence ties the IRA to Palestinian terrorists in the "refugee camp" at Jenin. It was from the Jenin camp that the Israelis say most of the Palestinian suicide bombers were dispatched.

The Provisional IRA, like many other groups, has its own distinctive way of making pipe bombs. The way a bomb is made tells much about who made it, and who trained him to do it. Paul Collinson is a British bomb disposal expert now with the Norwegian Red Cross at the Jenin camp. The Daily Telegraph quotes him as saying that he found more than 200 explosive devices there, and that they were of the same design he saw many times in Northern Ireland. "When I saw the bombs, it was like a flashback to Northern Ireland," said Mr. Collinson. "The way the pipes were cut and the whole design of the pipe bombs is exactly the same."

Declaring the Provisional IRA and all its factions to be terrorist organizations would be a tough call for our not-so-tough State Department to make. Some Sinn Fein leaders, including Gerry Adams, are members of the British Parliament, making it diplomatically unthinkable lacking the kind of proof we have against the Provos to designate the entire IRA as terrorists. But we can't ignore what we plainly see, and the IRA's split persona cannot protect those clearly engaged in terrorism. The Provos' involvement in Colombian terror, in Spain, and now in the West Bank cannot be ignored. FARC is a terrorist organization under U.S. law. It and several of its members were indicted this week for the murder of American citizens. If the Provisional IRA is training and aiding FARC, it is as much a terrorist organization as its Colombian ally and must be added to the list of terrorist organizations.

We lacked the courage to label Mr. Arafat a terrorist, though he plainly is. Will we also lack the courage to so label the Provos? Terrorism is an enemy that must be defeated by force of arms. We can't win the war against terror if we can't even have the courage to see them for what they are wherever they appear, whether in Afghanistan or Belfast. The Provos' involvement in the worldwide terrorist network can no longer be ignored, and must be dealt with decisively.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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