The attack on Salman Rushdie in New York on August 12 was a stark reminder of the terrible order issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini 33 years ago. Another order was less well known.
At the time, he claimed Rushdie’s murder after the release of The Satanic Versesback in Ireland, the Provisional IRA challenged their bomb makers to figure out how to kill more people than they were already doing.
That was in 1989, and within a very short time, the bomb makers made a breakthrough that gave new meaning to the term “icing on the cake”.
As a security correspondent, I was aware that the paramilitary organizations were constantly striving to develop bigger and better bombs to further their campaign.
I remember marveling at the properties of mercury at school. When we tipped it in a matchbox, it rolled like a ball bearing.
Because it did, and being liquid metal, it gave INLA the element they needed for the bomb they planted under Tory MP Airey Neave’s car in 1979.
As he drove up the parking ramp from the House of Commons underground car park, the mercury rolled back and detonated the bomb.
It has been said that Dublin criminal Martin Cahill had the help of a former INLA member in building the bomb he planted under Dr.
dr Jim Donovan is still suffering from injuries sustained in the 1982 car bombing
dr Donovan was seriously injured when the bomb exploded under his feet as he was driving to work. Luckily it wasn’t one of the INLA’s mercury toggle switch bombs or he wouldn’t have survived.
I spoke to Jim recently and he believes it was a crude gelignite bomb that went off as the engine got hot when the unit blew up just after he left the house. Unfortunately, he is still suffering from the injuries he caused.
In 1984 I reported how a small amount of white powder found among bomb-making materials in a house in Co. Dublin turned out to be RDX. Somehow an IRA “scientist” – an Englishman, I believe – had managed to create the military-grade explosive under less than ideal laboratory conditions.
(I based one of my teenage books on this find. Called rainbow of the moonit is out of stock now.)
The IRA has not continued production of the explosive – probably because it was too difficult to manufacture.
In any case, they were soon able to get plenty of Semtex from Libya.
Which brings me to 1989, the year of the fatwa against Rushdie.
It was around this time that the Provisional IRA bomb makers began experimenting to make more effective bombs. It wasn’t long before they developed a mix of nitrate fertilizer and sugar.
According to security sources, loyalists also tried to use such a mixture, but failed. Apparently they used regular sugar – unaware that the secret ingredient in the Provos’ recipe was powdered sugar.
Undoubtedly it was the icing on the cake for the Provos, as huge bombings followed, causing death and destruction across Northern Ireland and London, including, as many will remember, Canary Wharf.
To put it more simply…when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was issued, security was also tightened at Penguin Books, which had published The Satanic Verses. I discovered this when I went to Penguin for a start of my own.
My first nature book run with the windwas published by Wolfhound Press in 1983. Two more followed – run to earth and Run fast, run free – and then came Penguin edition deals in the UK.
Needless to say, it was with great excitement that my wife and I traveled to London for the launch.
However, upon arriving at the Penguin offices, we found that the visit was restricted due to the threat to Rushdie.
Security guards checked the list of people invited to the reception – and to our dismay they said our names were not on the list.
They asked us to wait while they checked. So we waited… and waited.
Finally I said, “Show me this list.” And our names weren’t on it. Then I pointed to the line at the top and said, “That’s me!”
One of them said, “Oh, you’re the author? I’m sorry old boy.”
No celebrity status but we were quickly shown to reception where we were warmly greeted by people from Penguin, the media and friends.
As we enjoyed a glass of wine and a piece of cake, a Penguin representative told us that Maeve, in her own cheerful way, had asked Binchy why I was getting a reception for my books and she wasn’t getting hers.
She was joking, of course, because it was rare for Penguin to publish three books by the same author at the same time.
I only wish Maeve had been there because she would have smiled her beautiful smile at the thought of not letting me attend my own reception.
It was a smile that would have brightened Penguin at a time when dark forces were at work following the release of The Satanic Verses.
Tom McCaughren was formerly a security correspondent for RTÉ
https://www.independent.ie/life/why-1989-was-the-icing-on-the-cake-for-forces-of-death-and-destruction-41925834.html Why 1989 was the icing on the cake for Forces of Death and Destruction