Diligent, painstaking, old-fashioned detective work has resulted in a significant break-through for the British police in their efforts to foil the terrorists of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. Sifting through literally tons of rubble that came crashing down when a section of the Grand Hotel in Brighton caved in after a mammoth explosion last October, forensic experts picked up invaluable clues.
These resulted in the detention of at least 12 IRA suspects in a weekend sweep -- and police believe they have thwarted another potential terrorist campaign in England. They uncovered an IRA plan to bomb 12 seaside resorts during the height of the summer vacation period.
Meanwhile, in a diplomatic breakthrough, Britain and the United States yesterday signed an agreement that would close a loophole in policies governing the extradition of IRA fugitives who flee to the United States. As a result of this new agreement, IRA members suspected of murder will no longer escape extradition by claiming that their actions were political, not criminal.
The supplementary extradition treaty will have to be approved by the US Senate as well as the British Parliament. It will be retroactive.
The new agreement is designed to prevent cases like that of Joseph Doherty, who escaped to the US from a Belfast jail in 1981 after being convicted of murdering a British Army captain. Last year a US federal court judge refused to extradite Doherty on the grounds that his crime was political.
In a significant development a few months ago an Irish High Court judge ruled that political motivation could no longer be used to avoid extradition.
British authorities regard the closing of these extradition loopholes as essential to preventing IRA members escaping by seeking refuge across the border in Ireland or across the Atlantic in the US.
Meanwhile the foiling of a potentially massive bombing campaign as a result of investigation is regarded here as a serious setback to the Provisional wing of the IRA.
The trail of investigation leads back to the bombing in Brighton last year during the Conservative Party conference there. That bombing, which killed four people, narrowly missed claiming the life of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
According to a spokesman of the Sussex Police, which conducted the investigations into the Brighton bombing, forensic experts continue to sift the rubble for further clues.
Investigations have revealed the existence of a long-term bombing device that had been set to ``wait'' 26 days before detonating. By working back 26 days and checking the hotel register for that day, police found an entry in the name of ``Roy Walsh'' for the room where the bomb had been placed. They subsequently traced ``Mr. Walsh,'' whose name proved to be fictitious, to an Irish address.
Police authorities have been playing a cat-and-mouse game, watching the movements of ``Roy Walsh'' until he stepped back on the British mainland. This man is regarded as the IRA's principal bombmaker.
Seven people, including, it is believed, the ``Mr. Walsh'' who allegedly set the Brighton bomb, were picked up by the police in Glasgow during a weekend raid. In this sweep in various parts of Britain, 15 people have been detained so far under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This legislation allows police to hold suspects for one week without trial, provided the home secretary does not object.
In their raid on a Glasgow tenement detectives found a document listing 12 resort towns where bombs with a long-delay timing device were to be planted. The document also included the name of the Rubens Hotel in London. A bomb had already been planted there but police were able to locate and defuse it.
The campaign against the resort areas was designed to be carried out in mid-July. The targeted resorts were Blackpool, Brighton, Bournemouth, Dover, Eastbourne, Folkestone, Great Yarmouth, Margate, Ramsgate, Southampton, Torquay, and Southend.
It appears that the campaign was still in its early stages, and although the 12 seaside resorts and ports were readily identified, the saboteurs had yet to target the specific hotels they intended to strike.
For this reason the police are pleased that they were apparently able to interrupt the strategy before any bombs, other than the one at the Rubens Hotel, which is near Buckingham Palace, could be planted.
Apart from these setbacks the Provisional wing of the IRA is experiencing at the hands of the police, the Provos also have to contend with a rift within their own ranks.
The hard-liners go for violent options. More moderate figures like Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Provisional IRA, favor ballot and guns.
Some of the police breakthroughs are attributed to tipoffs by less hard-line members of the IRA who have not gone along with all the civilian bombings, such as the Christmas 1983 car-bomb attack outside Harrods that claimed five lives.
In recent months the Provos have moved away from civilian targets in Northern Ireland while sharply escalating their attacks on members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defense Regiment, an auxiliary security force.