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Former IRA Member Can't See Rationale Behind Minsk Bombing

Sean O'Callaghan when he was in the IRA in the 1970s.
Sean O'Callaghan when he was in the IRA in the 1970s.
Sean O'Callaghan joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the age of 15, helping to plan and taking part in several deadly terror attacks in Northern Ireland. Torn by remorse, he left the movement at 21, becoming a police informer.

O'Callaghan spent eight years in prison after voluntarily confessing to the murder of a British soldier and a Northern Irish officer while in the IRA.

During that time he wrote an autobiography entitled "The Informer." He spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel and Belarus Service correspondent Jan Maksymiuk about the odd circumstances surrounding the April 11 bombing of a subway station in Minsk, which saw 13 people killed and some 150 injured.

RFE/RL: Every day there are more questions than answers to the April 11 subway bombing in Minsk. And one of the unanswered questions is how the terrorists were accused, confessed, and presumably confessed to two other terrorist acts in 2005 and 2008. According to the investigators one of those men carried a heavy bag with the bomb to the subway platform, and later left the platform without the bag, ignoring surveillance cameras in the subway. And they were discovered because they left their fingerprints on the wall by one of the bombs that did not explode in the previous bombing. So, how can you explain such behavior on the part of alleged terrorists?

Sean O'Callaghan finds it surprising that the alleged Minsk bombers were not more aware of CCTV.
Sean O'Callaghan: Sometimes we have to accept as well that people can at one level be clever and rational in what they attempt to do, and at another level be rather careless. What I just find extraordinarily odd about this particular [scenario] is there doesn't appear to be any strategic gain.

If this was a group operation, then what were they attempting to do? What did they mean to do? Did they just want to kill their own people for no particular reason? And if you're walking into a subway to plant a bomb, no matter where you are in the world nowadays you're going to be aware of CCTV cameras. You're going to understand it.

There's just something extraordinarily strange [about it], because you think of people that carry out other kinds of crimes -- crimes of rape, or passion, murder -- and you think, there is going to be a rationale for it...whatever the reason is for it.

When you go around just assembling, putting together sophisticated bombs in, let's face it, a rather backward country in some areas, and you manage to do all that, and you do it and you kill people that are your own people. And there doesn't appear to be any rationale for it. No, it doesn't make sense.

RFE/RL: The investigators say that the bombers used a pretty sophisticated explosive device that has no analogues in the previous records of terrorists. The investigators also say that the alleged bombers have not completed the full high-school curriculum and possess just vocational training, one as an electrician, the other as a lathe operator. Do you think it's possible for such people to make a sophisticated bomb? Can you get enough information on the Internet?

O'Callaghan: In the context I would be inclined to doubt it. Certainly an electrician would have an advantage [that] they understand the circuits.... But, in Belarus, where would these two young men get the material from? Where would they make this device, how would they detonate it?

What strikes anybody with any grain of wit about the particular thing in Minsk is that it just appears to be without context.
You know, it doesn't make sense. Where would you get the material from? Where would you get the explosives they used? And certainly you can get the information from the Internet, agreed, but getting the information from the Internet, and then getting the material and turning all of that into a sophisticated device, is an entirely different story.

So I would wonder where the material came from, where the explosives came from, where it was made, [and] is there any forensic trail to them? Did they make those, [and] where did they make those -- did they make it in a workshop? It's just very strange.

RFE/RL: So, what is a "normal" profile of a bomber? Do they need the reassurance of an ideology to convince them that what they've done is not murder, and that it serves a larger purpose that somehow exonerates them from the usual rules? No such ideology has been put forward immediately after this bombing.

O'Callaghan: If you take the Ireland context, I had been brought up with something that says it is never a crime to kill a British soldier in Ireland -- neither a crime nor a sin. So in the sense that you are fighting a war, in that context of things being justified -- it's hugely important, of course.

While I was growing up anything that I'd done couldn't have been construed as murder. Murder would have been completely wrong, so none of these things were murder. So if you got involved in killing a policeman or a soldier, well that wasn't murder, it couldn’t be murder -- if that was murder it was wrong, obviously.

So to think that it would be murder would be crazy. And you can extrapolate all that kind of ideological stuff onto loads of things, and that context for it. What strikes anybody with any grain of wit about the particular thing in Minsk is that it just appears to be without context.

RFE/RL: Many bloggers are saying that maybe in fact it was the security services that planted this bomb. What are your thoughts on this?

O'Callaghan: However it comes out, there is something very, very strange about this particular bomb. It kind of doesn't stack up at all kinds of levels. It just doesn't.

I've spent quite a few hours looking at it, I was looking at it just when it happened and after, it just doesn’t hang together. I mean, it's a bomb that's going to kill civilians, for no real particular reason, in a context where the economy's going down the tube. And we all have the background on all of that. And it just doesn't make any sense...I don't get it, I just really don't get it.

I don’t get the business of people admitting to stuff so quickly. And the guy gets drunk.... Look, if you're that drunk, then you aren't going to be questioned for at least 24 hours. If you're getting people to admit to stuff at 5 a.m. in the morning, what's been going on for the hours before that?

Why would even a complete -- like even the anarchists, the Russian anarchist, the American anarchist, way back at the beginning of the century, there at least was a context. And you do get loners, you do get these odd loners that do put together little bombing campaigns, but even then there's a context, they've got particular targets in mind.

This is like, "we're going to plant a bomb tomorrow morning in Minsk and we're going to kill a lot of civilians. And then I'm going to get drunk afterward. And it's going to be a sophisticated bomb." And why? I mean, who are you, why are you doing it? It doesn't add up.