Martin Snodden: Inside the mind of a repentant bomber

Martin Snodden, now an international trauma and conflict resolution worker, was in the 1970s a loyalist bomber and gunman in Belfast. He served 15 years in prison for his part in a pub bombing in which two people were killed. Here he describes his mindset as a bomber.
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"Before the bombing your mind is on alert, it's being pumped with adrenaline and how much desire you have to remove the target from society. In many ways it's about fear - about inflicting fear, experiencing fear yourself and going through it to take that action.

But immediately afterwards my mind was horrified at my actions - I mean horrified. I sank to depths I never thought I would go to, depths I never knew existed within me as a human being. I was horrified by my own actions, once the reality of them actually came home to me.

My colleague and comrade died when the bomb prematurely exploded, together with a woman, an innocent civilian who was on the premises.

I was blown up along with the bomb. One minute I was standing there, the next I was coming round, having been blown up, with rubble on top of me with my clothes burnt off and my body burnt. It was a horrendous experience.

When the news started coming in about the London bombs - it triggered a lot of memories, took me back to all those bad old days and the violent conflict. I was horrified.

I also felt sadness about those who actually perpetrated the bombs in London, in terms of the whole sense of the cycle of violence. I believe that they were motivated people, and that they have reasons for doing what they've done.

That's not justifying what the reasons are in any way, but as a society we need to be looking at what's motivating them.

I started life as a non-violent young man, a normal young man, but it was in a society that stretched to embrace violence. The hardest part in my journey was to actually take up the gun in the first place, but I decided I needed to take up arms to protect my people.

That was not an overnight decision - I wrestled with my conscience. When I committed acts of violence I lost a part of my humanity.

Between the ages of 16 and 19 I actively engaged in violence, and before I had turned 20 I was imprisoned for my actions.

Even as I was committing violent acts I knew that they were wrong. Although in some sense I felt at that point I could justify it, morally I knew they were wrong.

Whenever I got to prison, and had the luxury of self-exploration, my original thoughts of violence being wrong were reinforced. My colleagues inside were like me: most had entered prison before the age of 22 - all were cannon fodder. I came to realise that violence truly does only beget violence, and that my actions had only reinforced someone else's thinking about committing violent acts against my community.

It was a long and tortuous journey for me, it was not an overnight thing. I wrestled with a lot of those things for a long, long time, but fortunately there were other people who were on a similar journey.

I am comfortable in myself now, as comfortable as one can be having had this life's experience. I am now helping others through my trauma work, not only in Northern Ireland but in other conflict zones such as the Balkans, which I visit a number of times a year.

I would like to think that London would be the last such experience that the world would have. However I know the reality, and it saddens me to think that the horror will be repeated somewhere, sometime in the future.

We all as responsible citizens, of any state, have to do our utmost to prevent or minimise such atrocities taking place.

In my life I've been a peace breaker, a peace-maker and peace-builder. My past violent actions were very destructive, but now I'm fighting for peace in a far more constructive manner. The risks aren't really much different but the rewards are much greater.

All I can do is hope that those who bombed London will learn the same lessons as me, and will come to urge young people not to take up the gun and waste people's lives. I hope they will eventually take on the much harder role of peace-building rather than making war."