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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
MI6 attack Q&A

David Capitanchik, an expert in terrorism from Robert Gordons University in Aberdeen, considers who is most likely to have been behind the attack on MI6 headquarters and their probable motives.

Which terrorist groups will the security services be focusing on in the investigation ?

Principally on the Real or Continuity IRA. Until they complete their investigations, they will claim to be keeping an open mind, but it does look as though this attack was part of the series including the Hammersmith Bridge and Ealing/Acton bombs. They all involve a very small investment for a major impact.

What does the attack tell us about the strategy and tactics of the terrorists?

The aim seems to be to operate with the utmost "economy". Very small devices using minimum materials, but so placed as to cause the maximum disruption to life in the capital.

They do not appear to be targeting people nor, for that matter, are they particularly concerned to cause much physical damage. The aim is to cause major disruption and thereby capture world headlines.

In my view, their main aim is to impress the public in Northern Ireland, and especially the IRA, that they are a serious force whose views (against the Good Friday agreement) should be taken into account.

For their part, I don't think the IRA are very worried by this phenomenon - it enables them to show the British and Irish Governments, as well as the Unionists, that there are worse people than them around, and that the alternative to them if their wishes are ignored would be far worse.

Why might the MI6 building be a particular target ?

I think it's only because of its prominence, easily identifiable -especially after the latest Bond film - and any attack on that building would be bound to capture world headlines.

For them - the dissidents - it is of high symbolic value - an attack upon the very bastion of British global power.

How can such a sensitive building have been so open to attack ?

For reasons of their own, the authorities have not attempted to conceal the HQ of this important body. It is as though it was deliberately designed to be very high profile.

So the risk of attack must always have been apparent, with the important bits underground and the building itself well protected against any physical assault. The only way to attack it was with some missile/mortar.

It seems a missile was used - how significant a development is that ?

Significant only because I cannot recall a similar attack on the mainland. Mortars have been used (Downing Street 7th February 1991) and Heathrow, but attack by a grenade launcher is new on the mainland. In Northern Ireland, however, it has often been the weapon of choice.

No warning was given - how worrying is that ?

The dissident IRA groups have been very dilatory when it comes to issuing warnings. Partly, it's because they do not expect serious casualties or damage from their attacks and partly because they probably fear that by agreeing to recognised warnings, they might be in danger of giving themselves away, thus raising the costs/risks of their operations. But it is worrying.

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