Perspective: Killing Civilians? It's What Terrorists Do; Birmingham MP Clare Short Believes the Difference between Iraqi Insurgents and the IRA Is That the Irish Terror Group Never Targeted Civilians. Campbell Docherty Spoke to a Leading Terrorism Expert Who Begged to Differ

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Byline: Campbell Docherty

The face of terrorism is changing, the tactics of terrorists are shifting, their regard for civilian life deteriorating.

Such is the popular orthodoxy when regarding terrorist atrocities these days.

September 11 was obviously the moment when the entire world - and especially the hitherto cossetted USA - woke up to just how ugly terrorism can be.

Since then, the almost daily news drumbeat of suicide bombings and other indiscriminate attacks, culminating with the unimaginable horror of the Beslan school siege, has led many commentators to proclaim the terrorist is getting more desperate.

That something in the ether, something in the sub-conscious of all terrorists, is changing.

Some then attempt to empathise with the desperation that leads to such acts of degradation, the old phrase 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' starts to do the rounds.

Clare Short's comments on the IRA not targeting civilians are clearly borne from that. But is there really a change? Is the conscious targeting of civilians anything new?

Terrorism expert Dr Sean McGough, from the University of Birmingham's Department of Political Science, thinks not.

'There is no terrorist organisation on the face of the planet that has not, at some point, deliberately targeted civilians,' he said.

'It is a deliberate tactic that is inherent in what a terrorist does.'

Dr McGough said Ms Short's comments were naive and doubted whether even current or former IRA members would agree with her.

'There was undoubtedly an element in the IRA, in the 1970s in particular, carrying out bombing campaigns that moved from military targets to civilians.

'The whole aim of terrorism is to create terror so the people you are terrorising put pressure on their government.

'It was a deliberate tactic.' He added: 'I very much doubt if there are any ex or current IRA personnel who would agree with Clare Short.

'Part and parcel of reaching an end to conflicts is truth and reconciliation. I think many people in the IRA would say she was avoiding the truth of the past and if you avoid that - if both sides avoid that - you can have no reconciliation. …