Westminster attack makes two days of terror in the UK

The incidents that unfolded outside the Houses of Parliament and on Westminster Bridge this afternoon mark two consecutive days of terror attacks on UK soil. While the details of precisely what happened today are still being released to the media what we do know is that a man drove a vehicle in to a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before crashing in to railings. The attack eerily echoes similar attacks carried out in France and Germany over the last year. Figures on casualties remain unconfirmed at this time but at least five people have been seen removed from the scene by ambulance.

He then abandoned the vehicle and at around 1445hrs either he or an accomplice attacked a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament. The police officer was stabbed before the attacker was then shot by armed officers responding to the scene. British Prime Minister Theresa May was still inside the building at the time of the attack on the officer following her weekly Prime Minister’s Questions with the House of Commons and was quickly ushered away by her security team. The House of Commons was then put in to lockdown as the area was searched and secured by police officers.

While the incident at Westminster is getting world attention it has overshadowed a terror attack carried out on UK soil yesterday by Irish dissidents in Strabane, County Tyrone. A bomb exploded near two Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers patrolling Townsend Street at 2030hrs on Tuesday night. The attack occurred just hours after former IRA commander Martin McGuinness’s body was carried through Bogside in Derry just 12 miles away.

PSNI Strabane

PSNI vehicle in Strabane, County Tyrone (BBC)

Speaking to the press, PSNI Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said;

“We are incredibly lucky that the lives of officers and other members of the community were not lost last night.

It is the latest in a string of attacks by Irish dissidents that included a sniper attack on a PSNI officer at a petrol station in north Belfast in January and an attempted bomb attack in the Poleglass area of the city. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland described the attackers who planted the bomb as “terrorists” while many republican politicians voiced their condemnation.

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The social media threat to service personnel

facebook-social-media-armed-forces-uk

There’s no escaping that social media has been playing an increasing part in our everyday lives for the last decade and it is this fact that now have military chiefs worried about what information is being shared online by those under their command. This fear has been reinforced as reports have begun to circulate about fake profiles being created in order to follow the activities and locations of serving personnel and even members of youth cadet organisations.

The MailOnline has published reports from members of the British Army’s University Officers’ Training Corps that shows a worrying increase in the number of fake profiles being created and aimed at befriending members online. Security experts are concerned that with last year’s attempted abduction of an RAF NCO as he jogged near his base, members of Jihadist groups operating in the UK are trying to use social media to plot similar kidnappings or attacks.

Other sources claim that Russia is attempting to carry out covert reconnaissance and intelligence gathering operations on British forces via social media or even use it to recruit or coerce service personnel. It is also likely that news and other media outlets are following service personnel online hoping to uncover a story.

The MoD has been aware of the potential impact social media could have on security for quite some time and in 2012 published a booklet that provided a guide on what was acceptable or not. This included asking the following questions about anything put online;

• What if this ends up on the front page of the papers?
• Would I say this to my CO in front of 100 people?
• Would I leave this information lying on a park bench?
• What if a terrorist or criminal gets this information?

British forces aren’t the only ones who have had to learn this lesson with most of the world’s military and government organisations having to regulate their personnel’s use of social media. In July 2014, a Russian soldier named Sergeant Alexander Sotkin posted a photo of himself online with the image being tagged as having been taken in eastern Ukraine despite Russia repeatedly denying it had Russian soldiers fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels there.

Cyberspace represents many challenges when it comes to security. Firstly, unlike secret military equipment it is readily available to anyone and exists well outside the chain of command. Keeping government secrets has always been a part of military life but instead of shady, backroom dealings with mysterious strangers in trench coats the people trying to gather information online will often seem like anyone else with similar interests, personalities and no obvious indications that they are someone whose goal is more nefarious than simply sharing a funny cat video.

The IRA’s S-Plan & the Bombing of Broadgate, 1939

In the wider perception of European history, the late 1930s is remembered as the time when Nazi Germany began to cast its shadow over Europe leading ultimately to the most destructive conflict in history – World War II. At the same time however, old grievances were bubbling to the surface once more in Ireland and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were about to resume their campaign to unify Ireland and expel what they saw as a British military occupation of Northern Ireland.

Sean Russell IRAEarlier efforts to conduct operations against the British government and the British Army in Northern Ireland were curtailed by the turbulent internal politics of the IRA in the 1930s. One major source of contrition was how the organisation should associate itself with the government of the Republic of Ireland with many members viewing it with suspicion and mistrust, accusing it of being an imperialist puppet of the British. In 1938, Seán Russell resumed his post within the IRA’s council having been investigated for misappropriating funds and began gathering support for a coordinated campaign against the British. His plan called for a series of bombings against British industrial and economic targets coinciding with a wider propaganda war aimed at gathering support from the Irish people on both sides of the divide and abroad. Known as the S-Plan (the “S” standing for sabotage), Russell and his supporters went to work training recruits through 1938 and finalising targets in the UK mainland.

By December 1938 the plan was ready to be put in to place. As the propaganda angle was a major factor in the plan the IRA declared itself the true government of all 32 counties that made up the entirety of Ireland in an effort to give their cause an air of legitimacy and even foster a feeling of sympathy from abroad; freedom fighters waging a war against an imperial foe and their collaborators in the south. This was especially important for rallying support from Irish-Americans but served to alienate the government of Irish Republic President Douglas Hyde who the IRA were effectively declaring as illegitimate and which began passing tougher laws to limit and criminalise the IRA as a result.

Despite some reservations within the IRA about the organisation’s readiness for the campaign, they nevertheless delivered the following ultimatum to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax on January 12th 1939;

I have the honour to inform you that the Government of the Irish Republic [32 counties], having as its first duty towards its people the establishment and maintenance of peace and order here, demand the withdrawal of all British armed forces stationed in Ireland. The occupation of our territory by troops of another nation and the persistent subvention here of activities directly against the expressed national will and in the interests of a foreign power, prevent the expansion and development of our institution in consonance with our social needs and purposes, and must cease.

The Government of the Irish Republic believe that a period of four days is sufficient notice for your Government to signify its intentions in the matter of the military evacuation and for the issue of your Declaration of Abdication in respect of our country. Our Government reserves the right of appropriate action without further notice if upon the expiration of this period of grace, these conditions remain unfulfilled.

The British government refused to adhere to the demand and thus the IRA declared war on the United Kingdom on Sunday 15th January 1939. The next day, five bombs were detonated in London, Warwickshire and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The targets were electricity pylons and power sub-stations in an attempt to specifically harm industrial outputs in those areas. This set the tone for much of the IRA’s campaign and over the following week a significant number of targets were hit but with almost no fatalities since they were aimed at infrastructure, power and gas supplies. This was a key factor in supporting the propaganda war since large numbers of deaths might turn the all-important American support against them.

Throughout 1939 the IRA carried out repeated attacks aimed at further undermining the British industrial complex and the British people’s confidence in their government to protect them. In July 1939, attacks were made on cinemas in London and Birmingham using tear gas bombs which although didn’t kill anyone struck fear in to the wider public that their enemy was on their own streets and walking among them. At the same time, perhaps frustrated by the lack of results thus far, the British government revealed that it had been informed that the attacks on the UK would intensify in the coming months. Not long after this, bombs were detonated at banks across London killing one person while a second was killed in a blast at King’s Cross train station a month later. The British responded with emergency powers that saw large numbers of the Irish community in Britain get deported to Southern Ireland who were themselves introducing legislation to combat the IRA. The British were also increasingly concerned about reported support for the IRA’s campaign coming from Berlin.

Then on August 25th 1939, less than a week before Hitler’s forces crossed in to Poland, a rather inconspicuous-looking bike was placed up against a wall in Broadgate, part of Coventry’s busy city centre. The bike had a basket on the front, common for the time, with a bundle inside it. A rather frustrated man had left it there and walked away having found it difficult to take the bike across the tramlines in the area. His name was Joby O’Sullivan who came from Cork and he was the only one who knew that the bundle in the basket was in fact a bomb. He would later state that he intended to take the already armed bomb to a nearby police station but the tramlines had slowed his progress down meaning the bomb was due to detonate soon and not wanting to be a martyr he left it where it was.

At two minutes after half past two on a busy Friday afternoon, the 5lbs of explosive was detonated by an alarm clock timer. The blast shattered glass which shot out like bullets that cut down people walking by at the time. A young shop assistant, 21-year old Elsie Answell, was killed instantly having been standing by a window near where the bomb detonated. She was due to be married in early September but ended up getting buried in the same church her service was to take place.

IRA bombing Broadgate coventry

In the W.H. Smiths store, 30-year old Rex Gentle who came to Coventry from North Wales for holiday work and 15-year old local boy John Arnott were also killed in the initial blast. 50-year old Gwilym Rowlands was killed while sweeping the roads for the council while the oldest victim, 82-year old James Clay, was struck down as he walked home from his regular café which he had left earlier than usual because he was feeling unwell. Another 70 people were injured many of them with severe lacerations caused by the flying glass.

The British public were outraged and the attack served to further diminish confidence in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his government who seemed impotent to stop both the IRA at home and Hitler in Eastern Europe. Arrests of people with Irish descent in Britain increased as did hostility towards the Irish community in the UK which should have played in to the hands of the IRA’s propaganda war but the loss of life in Coventry had dealt it a severe blow with their sympathy from moderate US supporters starting to taper off as a result. Behind closed doors the IRA itself began to recognise the potential disaster the Coventry bombing was to their cause and coupled with the lack of results from their operations in the previous months, Russell addressed the Irish world trying to affirm that their time for victory was at hand;

“England’s difficulty – Ireland’s opportunity” has ever been the watchword of the Gael.. Now is the time for Irishmen to take up arms and strike a blow for the Ulster people.

The outbreak of war between Britain and Germany looked set to further Britain’s problems and offer the opportunity for Irish victory especially with Nazi German support, after all it had been the last war that helped secure partial home rule for the Irish people in the south. Alas it was not to be for Russell and his supporters. The outbreak of war increased British security and limited the once commercially available materials in Britain needed for bombs making attacks all the more difficult. Not forgetting the deaths at Coventry, the British eventually arrested five people on the charge of the bombing among other terrorist offences and hung two of them, 29-year-old James Richards and 32-year old Peter Barnes, in February 1940. Joby O’Sullivan was not arrested for the bombing and would only confess to it years later to a reporter.

By 1940 the IRA’s campaign was completely running out of a steam as a result of British and Irish Republic emergency powers to curtail their operations. Arrests and deportations ran high in both countries while the US authorities started to clamp down on IRA members and supporters in America amid the increasing evidence of Nazi support. The hanging of Richards and Barnes effectively signalled the demise of the S-Plan although the last attack associated to it would occur on March 18th 1940 by which time the British people were more concerned about facing their own foreign invader in the form of Germany than paying any significant attention to the IRA’s cause. Indeed, despite Russell believing Nazi Germany could aid the Irish cause the events of the first six months of war actually overshadowed the IRA’s operations which did much to diminish their effectiveness. He believed this to the point where he would actually die in a German U-Boat trying to get to Nazi-occupied Europe.

The IRA leadership would be deeply self-critical of the operation in the years that followed with many members pointing out that there were warning signs of its inevitable failure even before 1939. Many of the attacks were rendered ineffective by poor training of agents, something that was pointed out in 1938 but ignored by Russell, while others cited that the organization had not yet adequately recovered from the disarray of the mid-30s leadership debate. Also, some of the more grandiose plans such as bombing the Houses of Parliament failed to come to fruition.

While the plan failed to establish the unified Ireland under the IRA’s government that it was intended to it did regenerate the feelings of Irish patriotism. Many of those involved joined the list of earlier IRA martyrs that would inspire the next generation of members and keep the organization alive only to flourish in the 1960s and 70s (Sean Russell’s statue is below). The deliberate effort to limit civilian casualties also endeared many Irish communities overseas to give their support to the IRA who were seen as heroic; it can be argued that the propaganda side of the S-Plan was quite successful in the long term despite the Broadgate bombing.

Sean Russell IRA statue

For Coventry, the bombing was unfortunately a mere taster of what was to befall the city in the coming year and a half.

Police believe Marham kidnappers were part of larger terror group

Detectives investigating the attempted kidnapping of an RAF serviceman from RAF Marham in Norfolk have said the men are likely part of a larger terrorist group operating in the UK. The serviceman who has not been named but is believed to be in his 20s was accosted by two men while out jogging near the base on Thursday but managed to fend them off and escape.

In the wake of the incident, military bases throughout Britain have been put on high alert. Police have speculated that the attackers were planning a Lee Rigby style killing and that RAF Marham was chosen because it is the home of the Royal Air Force’s Tornado GR.4 fleet which is at the forefront of war against Daesh-ISIS. The fear now is that another attempt maybe made at another base in the UK.

Detective Superintendent Paul Durham told the press;

While the victim only witnessed two attackers, there may have been more than two people in the vehicle and given the nature of the attack, it is likely they were part of a larger team. This is important because I do not want to deter any potential witnesses from coming forward; it is the vehicle we are interested in, regardless of the number of people seen inside.

 

Aiming For The Ark

 

Revolutionary Organisation November 17 rocket mortar attack HMS Ark Royal

The story of how the Greek terrorist group November 17 tried to fire rockets at HMS Ark Royal.

On March 31st 1994, HMS Ark Royal steamed in to the Greek port of Piraeus located south-west of the centre of the capital city of Athens. The Invincible-class aircraft carrier, known to her crew as simply “The Ark”, was the fifth vessel in the Royal Navy’s history to carry the proud name which has long held an important place in the hearts of the British people. Commissioned in 1985, she was a great deal smaller than her predecessor operating a mix of helicopters and the revolutionary Sea Harrier Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing (VSTOL) combat aircraft. Nevertheless, she still carried 1,200 British sailors as they exercised British foreign policy around the world.

In 1994 that meant operations in the Adriatic to support NATO and UN peacekeeping operations over the former Yugoslavia. Operating under the banner of Operation Grapple (not to be confused with Operation Grapple; the British nuclear tests carried out in the mid-1950s) and then Operation Hamden, the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm provided logistical and fast-jet support to British troops on the ground in Bosnia via its helicopters and Sea Harriers respectively.

On January 28th 1994, HMS Ark Royal set sail from Portsmouth under the command of Captain Terry Loughran to rendezvous with her sister-ship, HMS Invincible. The two aircraft carriers met up on February 4th at Gibraltar where they completed a handover of duties before the Ark set sail for the Adriatic to assume her station.

The following interview was given by Captain Loughran during the operation and outlines the vessel’s mission as well as a brief glimpse of life aboard the carrier.

For the next two months the tempo of operations was high. The Ark proved so valuable that port visits to Naples and Toulon were cancelled to keep the vessel at sea. By the end of March, the carrier was given a reprieve from her duties and set sail for Piraeus where many of her crew were looking forward to shore leave. It was also an opportunity for the ship’s engineers to fully inspect the machinery that powered the vessel before they returned to the Adriatic. The visit to Piraeus was to be more than just a break for the crew with the customary tours for British and Greek delegates having been arranged during the stay. As the Ark steamed in to the picturesque Greek port her crew didn’t know of the plan that was being hatched against them on shore.

Greece’s post-World War II period was far more turbulent than most other western European countries. In 1967, the country was rocked by a military coup ‘d’état that would see seven years of dictatorship under the Juntas. In 1973, the general population and especially the Greek youth had become so frustrated with the Junta that they rose up in a mass demonstration of opposition. The Junta reacted harshly and on November 17th 1973 tanks burst through the gates of the National Technical University of Athens where a number of students and staff were on strike. 24 people were killed in the incident many of whom were young students.

The military dictatorship had survived the incident but their days were already numbered and the following year, as a result of pressure from members of the European Economic Community (European Union), the United States and as a result of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Juntas fell. However, the legacy of the tragedy at the university remained. Many of the students protesting were advocates of socialism and were displeased with the pro-capitalist government that formed in the wake of the Juntas. They were especially unhappy about the influence foreigners were having on Greece’s internal policies especially regarding the United States and the UK; Britain had a significant military presence on Cyprus in the 1970s. With the Greek political establishment still rocky they formed themselves in to their own army in an attempt to seize power and they named themselves in honour of those who had fallen at the university. Thus, Revolutionary Organization 17 November (often referred to as simply “November 17” or “17N”) was born in 1975.

November 17 flag

Flag of November 17 (commons.wikimedia)

They immediately made a name for themselves by attacking the American Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) station chief in Athens, Richard Welch, gunning him down outside his Greek home in full view of his wife. The Greek government tried to downplay the group’s involvement and this resulted in November 17 leaving calling cards with many of their victims’ bodies in the future often outlining why they had targeted that individual. Over the next 27 years the group would conduct a number of high profile assassinations and attacks on government and foreign officials. In the late 1980s these attacks became more sophisticated as the group seized a number of obsolete yet still effective anti-tank weapons from a Greek army depot and configured them to fire from homemade launchers. These were then used to attack foreign businesses and government vehicles including an attack on an armoured riot police bus in 1991 killing one officer and injuring 14 others.

Despite the apparent escalation of the group’s activities, the early- to mid-1990s saw a decline in November 17’s fortunes. The popularity they had enjoyed in the late 1970s and 1980s amongst the Greek population was quickly evaporating thanks to a number of incidents where innocent bystanders were killed or maimed in their operations resulting in their activities becoming more sporadic and with fewer successes. By 1994, morale amongst the group was at an all-time low with members abandoning it in droves. The hardcore remnants therefore planned a series of spectacular and high profile rocket attacks aimed at restoring morale and bringing the group back to the attention of the world’s media. They would be carried out in relatively quick succession and be primarily aimed at foreign targets in Greece. So when Ark Royal, the most well-known warship in the British fleet, docked at Piraeus on March 31st it proved too tempting a target to pass up.

November 17’s operatives began scouting around the dock for a suitable place to launch the attack and spotted a desolate area near a timber yard approximately 200 yards away from where the ship was docked. Two 2.75in rockets were loaded in to metal tubes angled in the direction of the moored 22,000ton British warship which were to be triggered by a timer set to give the terrorists enough time to get a safe distance away from the area which no doubt would become swarmed by police and security services in the wake of an attack. Having returned to their safe houses the terrorists must have waited patiently for the news channels to start pouring out reports of a rocket attack on a British aircraft carrier. They knew the small rockets had little chance of inflicting serious damage on the warship by themselves but if they were lucky enough to have them ignite some of the aviation fuel for the vessel’s air wing or even detonate some of the weapons on-board the result could be catastrophic.

USS FOrrestal Fire 1967

The Forrestal fire in 1967 (insensitivemunitions.org)

In July 1967, the US Navy carrier USS Forrestal was engaged in combat operations over Vietnam. Sailing through the Gulf of Tonkin, a strike mission was being prepared when a single Zuni 5.0in rocket inadvertently fired from its launcher beneath the wing of an F-4B Phantom II striking the external fuel tank of an A-4 Skyhawk getting ready for launch. The destruction of the Skyhawk resulted in a series of explosions aboard the vessel as fuel and weapons were ignited. By the time the resulting fire was brought under control 134 sailors were dead, 161 more were injured and US$72 million (equivalent to $511 million today) of damage had been inflicted. The threat posed to Ark Royal in 1994 from the two rockets was therefore very real.

Much to the terrorists’ frustration however, the news channels were not reporting an attack on the carrier. As the hours continued to tick by it was becoming increasingly obvious that the rockets had failed to fire either because of a malfunction or because they had been found by police and defused. Either way it was yet another blow to the group’s morale but undeterred they continued on with the attacks they had planned. On April 11th, the day Captain Loughran and his crew left the Greek port behind, November 17 detonated two bombs that exploded about three minutes apart in the northern suburb of Maroussi. The blasts damaged the offices of the American Life Insurance Company (Alico) and the Dutch insurance company Nationale Nederlande.

At around noon the local police in Piraeus received an anonymous phone call from a man claiming that he was passing the timber yard and had seen two strange tube-like objects inside. It has long been suspected that the caller was actually a member of November 17 because just a short while later a local radio station received a call claiming to be from November 17 taking credit for the bombings and an attempted rocket attack on the British aircraft carrier.

Police swooped in on the timber yard and located the two weapons before beginning the process of defusing them. An inspection of the two launchers showed that the triggering mechanism had failed as a result of shorting out during heavy rainfall. It is unclear exactly when the group had set the rockets to fire but the phone call to the radio station said that it had been planned for earlier in the week. In the end, bad luck on the part of November 17 had saved the Ark from attack.

HMS Ark Royal 1994 Adriatic

 

 

NEWS: ISIS attacks Libyan oil ports and depots

Islamic State

ISIS has launched an offensive in Libya to take control of the country’s lucrative oil ports in the wake of British and coalition airstrikes on their oil installations in Syria. ISIS have made claims that they overran the coastal town Bin Jawad on Monday and will soon take the key oil depot at Sidra. ISIS claimed the victory in the name of Abu Mughira al-Qahtani, a militant previously referred to as the new leader of ISIS in Libya.

Sidra is Libya’s biggest oil depot producing up to around half a million barrels of oil a day. Oil has been vital revenue for keeping the brutal organization operational which is why RAF combat aircraft have given their oilfields in Syria such special attention.

Footage has also appeared on the internet of a Libyan air force warplane apparently being shot down in Benghazi. British special forces are already operational in Libya and there has been talk in London of up to 1,000 British troops being put on the ground to combat ISIS.