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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sept. 11 Seen as Key to Breakthrough

LONDON -- The IRA's historic move to disarm after 30 years of fighting the British might never have happened if suicide hijackers had not attacked the United States on Sept. 11, international commentators said Wednesday.

The about-turn by the Irish Republican Army was seen as perhaps the one piece of good news to emerge from the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The IRA and its political ally Sinn Fein had in the past been able to rely on considerable support from Irish-Americans, but any sympathy for groups suspected of terrorism quickly evaporated after the attacks.

Henry Patterson, professor of politics at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, put it bluntly: "September 11 meant the IRA was a busted flush."

Britain's Daily Mail commented in an editorial: "The atrocity at the World Trade Center has badly undermined American indulgence towards Sinn Fein. No longer is it thought smart or politically correct to receive those who support terrorism."

In Italy, which two decades ago endured its own terrorism nightmare, with left-wing gangs such as the Red Brigades operating in a period known as the Years of Lead because of the number of bullets spent, the Corriere della Sera agreed.

"The IRA is handing in its arms, is finally committing itself to the path of peace, because at this point terrorism has become intolerable," the newspaper wrote. "After the September 11 attacks, there is no more room for maneuver." La Repubblica took a similar line: "In the first, and until now the only good news since September 11, the IRA, the strongest terrorist organization in Europe, has begun to disarm.

In Spain, El Pais said the Sept. 11 attacks had led Americans to revise drastically their relationship with Sinn Fein. The IRA decision also left ETA, the armed Basque separatist group, increasingly isolated.

"If the IRA's decision puts the peace process back on track, ETA will become the only active residue of terrorism in Europe," the left-leaning daily said. "We should hope they might also follow their example in laying down arms."

Despite the skepticism, editorialists generally praised the importance of the IRA's unprecedented move.

"The scale of what has occurred is of enormous significance," said The Times. "It is the most decisive step in a lengthy journey for the republican movement."

The Independent added: "This is by far the greatest step forward for the peace process since the ... Good Friday Agreement in 1998."

The New York Times said in an editorial: "The IRA's policy shift, which should help dispel the climate of mistrust that has stalled the peace process, deserves to be met with substantial concessions from London."

But Kevin Toolis, an author on Irish affairs, put his finger on the fact that almost nothing is known about the disarmament process: "We have no precise details of what has taken place. We don't know where, we don't know when, we don't know how."