Britain should talk to Al Qaeda, says N. Ireland's top cop

Sir Hugh Orde also warns that threat from dissident Irish terrorists is highest in five years.

Sir Hugh Orde, the chief of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), said that Britain should consider negotiations with Al Qaeda in an effort to end its terrorist activities.

Mr. Orde, a candidate to become the new head of London's Metropolitan Police, told the Guardian in an interview that the British government's police activities alone would not be enough to deal with Al Qaeda, and said that "thinking the unthinkable" may be necessary.

Asked whether Britain should attempt to talk to al-Qaida, he said: "If you want my professional assessment of any terrorism campaign, what fixes it is talking and engaging and judging when the conditions are right for that to take place.
"Is that a naive statement? I don't think it is ... It is the reality of what we face.
"If somebody can show me any terrorism campaign where it has been policed out, I'd be happy to read about it, because I can't think of one."

Orde noted that decades of effort by British police were unable to end the activities of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, and the corner was turned in that conflict only when the government began talking to the IRA. The Guardian notes that Orde was the first head of the PSNI to meet with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.

Orde said: "If you look at some of the biggest risks my people have taken it is talking to people who historically they would not have dreamed of talking to. Were we going to actually police our way out of the Troubles? No. Are we actually going to police our way out of the current threat? No."
... "Did I think in 1977 when I joined the Met ... I would end up talking to Gerry Adams in 2004 – and bear in mind the campaign was in London? Absolutely unthinkable."
... He gave this assessment of why the IRA put down its weapons: "It got to a point where those combatants realised ... certainly on the republican side, it wasn't ever going to work. So there's a certain pragmatism in there. The question, does Bin Laden see it that way, probably not. If you don't ask, you don't know."

Orde said that strong police efforts against Al Qaeda would still be necessary, however, even if the government opened talks with Al Qaeda. He added that as far as when to start talks, "the question will be one of timing."

The BBC notes that Orde is not the first British official to suggest talks with Al Qaeda.

In March, former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell said that at some point in the future it might be necessary to start talks with the group.
Mr Powell, who helped broker the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, said the deal showed such negotiations could work.
At the time, the Foreign Office rejected the suggestion, saying the government would not talk to any group actively promoting its aims through violence.

Orde's comments, combined with the British government's opposition to talks, evoke the debate earlier this month in the US over negotiations with Iran. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has advocated opening talks with Iran, which the White House has refused to do.

Later, during a speech before Israel's Knesset, President George Bush slammed negotiations with Iran as "appeasement," though he did not mention Mr. Obama by name, reported The Christian Science Monitor.

"No nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction," Bush said, a reference to suggestions from some mediators – such as former President Jimmy Carter in a recent mission here – that Israel should negotiate with Hamas, which controls Gaza. The comment was also seen as aimed at Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama who has suggested that the US sit down at the table with Iran and Syria.

"There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong," Bush said. "As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously," he added, after mentioning [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's suggestions that Israel ought to be "wiped off the map."

In his interview with the Guardian, Orde warned that the threat from dissident Irish terrorists is currently at the highest it's been in five years. Orde said: "A cornered animal lashes out, and these people are cornered. They are not wanted by their community, they've got nowhere to go."

His comments come in the wake of several small bombings in Northern Ireland in the past few weeks. Agence France-Presse reports that an incendiary bomb exploded in a Belfast sports shop early Tuesday morning. Although the bomb did not cause any injuries, the police said that it could have been lethal.

"The callous disregard for human life shown by those who planted this device ... is almost impossible to comprehend," said police Chief Inspector Trevor O'Neill.
"This is one of the busiest stores in one of the busiest streets in Belfast and it does not bear thinking about what might have happened if the device had detonated fully and when the store was full of shoppers."

The BBC added that police later found a second, unexploded bomb in the store. The Associated Press writes that the Belfast bombing comes just a week after two firebombs were found in a McDonald's in Cookstown, west of Belfast, and just two weeks after a PSNI officer was injured by a bomb planted underneath his car seat.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.