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The rise of Isis is 'remarkably' like the evolution of the IRA, says BBC documentary maker

Islamic State leadership came together in Iraq's Camp Bucca, just as republicans solidified in the Maze, says Peter Taylor

By Claire Cromie

Published 22/04/2015

A soldier stands guard over Iraqi prisoners of war at Camp Bucca, Iraq, in 2003
A soldier stands guard over Iraqi prisoners of war at Camp Bucca, Iraq, in 2003
A soldier stands watch outside the Maze Prison, 2 January 1972
An aerial shot of Long Kesh, September 1971
Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes in Long Kesh

The rise of Isis has a "remarkable parallel" with the evolution of the IRA in Northern Ireland, says a leading journalist and documentary maker.

Peter Taylor, who covered the Troubles for over 40 years, has been investigating the so-called Islamic State for the BBC to uncover how a small band of fanatical jihadi fighters became the world's richest terror army ever.

The leadership of Isis came together in Camp Bucca, an American internment camp in Iraq where 20,000 suspected insurgents were incarcerated until it closed in 2011.

Taylor says Camp Bucca has "entered the folklore" of Isis, just as internment at the Maze (also known as Long Kesh) became part of Irish republican history. There, key elements of the IRA's leadership came together.

He said: "Both camps looked the same with detainees locked up in prisoner of war type compounds surrounded by high wire fences. Inside both Iraqi insurgents and Irish republican prisoners enjoyed almost total freedom to organise and devise blueprints for their respective futures.

"In Long Kesh the IRA mapped out its long-term political and military strategy known as 'the long war'. In Camp Bucca the future leadership of the so-called Islamic State devised the blueprint for its fearsome army and draconian 'state'."

"Long Kesh received the sobriquet of 'terrorist university' long before Camp Bucca. IRA prisoners did military training with wooden weapons, devoured revolutionary treatises, held intense debates about the 'armed struggle' against 'British occupying forces' as well as spending time rioting, digging escape tunnels and attempting to burn down the camp - all of which were mirrored in similar events at Camp Bucca."

Taylor compares support for the two insurgencies, because both have represented minorities in divided communities. Isis draws support from the minority Sunnis, just as the IRA's support base lay in Northern Ireland's Catholic/nationalist community.

Many nationalists looked to the IRA to protect them from loyalists, the RUC and the British Army when the Troubles erupted. When Iraq's Camp Bucca was shut, many Sunnis looked to Isis to defend them from Shia dominated security forces and "death squads".

Bloody Sunday - when British paratroopers shot dead 13 unarmed Catholics - draws a "final bloody comparison in massacres that greatly increased support for both the IRA and IS", believes Taylor.

"In Iraq dozens of Sunni Arabs were shot dead in 2013 by predominantly Shia security forces at Hawija, a village near Kirkuk. The demonstrators had set up camp to protest against what they saw as their victimisation at the hands of the Shia dominated government. Estimates of the death toll vary from 20 to over 40.

"The government said their forces came under attack from gunmen and had to respond. Ironically the British army said the same at the time of Bloody Sunday.

"The now exiled Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi, told us that 'people are losing hope' and many young Sunnis 'daily join forces with Islamic State.

"The Hawija killings had a profound impact on the Sunni community just as Bloody Sunday did on the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, driving many into the arms of the IRA and IS."

This World: World's Richest Terror Army will be broadcast on BBC Two on Wednesday 22 April at 9pm.

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