24 maj, 2006

Bilbombens historie

Asia Times bragte sidste måned "A History of the Car Bomb" i to dele. Det er eminent læsning, der over 8 årtier tager en med til blandt andet Jerusalem, Lima, Saigon, Beirut og London. Undertiden er der øjen-åbnere. Følgende er en passage om IRAs forsøg på at forkrøble den britiske økonomi i midt-90erne. Mindre bombeangreb på blandt andet trafik-knudepunkter var en del af kampagnen, en anden var en serie enorme bilbomber:

A "billion-pound explosion"? One meaning, of course, is the TNT yield of three or four Hiroshima-size atomic weapons (which is to say, only a smidgen of the explosive power of a single H-bomb). Alternately, one billion (British) pounds (US$1.45 billion) is what the IRA cost the City of London in April 1993 when a blue dump-truck containing a ton of ANFO exploded on Bishopsgate Road across from the NatWest Tower in the heart of the world's second major financial center.

Although one bystander was killed and more than 30 injured by the immense explosion, which also demolished a medieval church and wrecked the Liverpool Street station, the human toll was incidental to the economic damage that was the true goal of the attack.

Whereas the other truck bomb campaigns of the 1990s - Lima, Bombay, Colombo and so forth - had followed Hezbollah's playbook almost to the letter, the Bishopsgate bomb, which A Secret History of the IRA author Ed Moloney describes as "the most successful military tactic since the start of the troubles", was part of a novel IRA campaign that waged war on financial centers in order to extract British concessions during the difficult peace negotiations that lasted through most of the 1990s.

Bishopsgate, in fact, was the second and most costly of three blockbuster explosions carried out by the elite (and more or less autonomous) South Armagh IRA under the leadership of the legendary "Slab" Murphy. Almost exactly a year earlier, they had set off a truck bomb at the Baltic Exchange in St Mary Axe that rained a million pounds of glass and debris on surrounding streets, killing three and wounding almost 100 people.

The damage, although less than Bishopsgate, was still astonishing: about 800 million pounds or more than the approximately 600 million pounds in total damage inflicted over 22 years of bombing in Northern Ireland.

Then, in 1996, with peace talks stalled and the IRA Army Council in revolt against the latest cease-fire, the South Armagh Brigade smuggled into England a third huge car bomb that they set off in the underground garage of one of the postmodern office buildings near Canary Wharf Tower in the gentrified London Docklands, killing two and causing nearly $150 million dollars in damage. Total damage from the three explosions was at least $3 billion.

As Jon Coaffee points out in her book on the impact of the bombings, if the IRA like the Tamil Tigers or al-Qaeda had simply wanted to sow terror or bring life in London to a halt, they would have set off the explosions at rush hour on a business day - instead, they "were detonated at a time when the city was virtually deserted" - and/or attacked the heart of the transport infrastructure, as did the Islamist suicide bombers who blew up London buses and subways in July.

Instead, Murphy and his comrades concentrated on what they perceived to be a financial weak link: the faltering British and European insurance industry. To the horror of their enemies, they were spectacularly successful. "The huge payouts by insurance companies," commented the BBC shortly after Bishopsgate, "contributed to a crisis in the industry, including the near-collapse of the world's leading [re]insurance market, Lloyds of London." German and Japanese investors threatened to boycott the city unless physical security was improved and the government agreed to subsidize insurance costs.

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