Friday 30 September 2016

Isil suspect's case brings terror fight to Irish courts

Alleged recruiter's bid to stop deportation could go all the way to European Court of Human Rights, writes Maeve Sheehan

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

EXPORTING TERROR: British-born Isil fighters in Syria in 2014. Photo: Tim Stewart/Rex
EXPORTING TERROR: British-born Isil fighters in Syria in 2014. Photo: Tim Stewart/Rex

While Isil wreaked carnage across Europe in 2015, some members of the Muslim community in Ireland insisted that the extremist terrorist group simply didn't exist in Ireland.

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A legal action in the Four Courts last week provided the first official confirmation that the security services suspect that it does ­- in the form of a father in his Fifties whom the State wants to deport because he is a threat to "national security".

Although the man has lived here for 15 years, he first came to the attention of the Garda Special Branch four years ago, the year of the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East. The authorities decided to move against him last March and the man was sent a letter informing him that he was to be deported.

The man denies the allegations and says that he will be tortured if he is deported.

So what can be said of the man whom the State suspects is a recruiter for Isil and the first suspected member of the Islamic terror group to appear before the Irish courts?

The first thing to be said is that the man denies the allegations and says that he will be tortured if he is deported, in breach of Article 3 of the Convention of Human Rights. Last Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg issued a temporary order suspending his deportation while the courts consider his case.

He cannot be named for legal reasons, and the media is also prohibited from reporting where he is from and the country the State wants to deport him to.

However, some facts emerged during a number of hearings that took place in the High Court and the Court of Appeal last week. The man did not appear. The reasons for his non-attendance were given to the court but the media was only allowed to report that he was "indisposed".

The man first came to Ireland in 2000 and sought asylum here. The same year, his son was born in Ireland which entitled his parents to "residency status" here. The man withdrew the application for refugee status and continued to live in Ireland under its residency rules.

Scant details were given about how he makes a living, or where he lives, or why the gardai began monitoring him in the first place.

The man first came to their attention in 2011 and the intelligence they gathered over the next four years led them to suspect him of being the most senior Isil figure in Ireland.

According to evidence given to court, gardai suspected that he was a "recruiter" of Islamic terrorists who "makes travel arrangements" for others to fight abroad in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was described as "a senior operative of Isil" and its "foremost organiser and facilitator within the State".

Last year, he was told that his residency permit to remain in Ireland would not be renewed. His son at that time was living overseas. In March last year, the authorities informed the man that he must leave the State by the end of 2015 or be deported.

Last month, the man took a legal challenge to his deportation in the High Court.

At an emergency sitting on Monday, a Department of Justice official testified that the man was suspected of "consulting" with and giving directions to senior violent extremist leaders who operated outside Ireland. The injunction was lifted, clearing the way for his deportation.

The man took his case to the Court of Appeal, where at another emergency sitting on Wednesday, three judges heard his case.

The risk of torture is at the heart of his challenge to his deportation order. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". The man claims that he will be tortured if he is deported.

Ireland recognises the European Convention - but also wants to protect national security.

"The right that will be interfered with is, in fact, the right to life," counsel for the Minister for Justice, Remy Farrell, told the court.

But Michael Lynn, the applicant's senior counsel, told the court that the man had been tortured for "his political beliefs" before he came to Ireland in 2000.

A report from Spirasi, a Dublin-based advocacy group that counsels victims of torture, referred to scars on his back and "alleged abuse".

The State's accusation that he is an Isil supporter - which the man denies - just increases the likelihood that he will be tortured if he is sent back to that country, according to Mr Lynn.

The man has since reinstated his application for refugee status in Ireland and his Irish-born son has returned to live here.

Mr Farrell noted that the man did not disclose in his original asylum application that he had been tortured. And he mentioned a trip to Turkey that the man took in 2013 in which he was refused entry.

The three judges of the Court of Appeal had questions about the evidence.

"I don't wish to be trite about it but there is no evidence of the nature of these things," said Mr Justice Peart at one stage to Mr Farrell.

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A second judge, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, said: "What you seem to be saying is that the applicant is involved in murder in other jurisdictions and there would be a conspiracy in this jurisdiction to commit murder in others."

The affidavit was "silent" on the "number of times the man has been arrested for questioning", he said. The State's counsel was at that point unable to tell him.

The other matter, said Mr Justice Sheehan, was that the State put the man at risk by saying that he was a member of Isil.

"Are you saying he is in a position to go back and live with his wife and family if he returns [to his home country]?"

Just then, a fax made its way to Dublin from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It was an interim order requesting the Irish Government not to deport the man.

The order took the man's legal team by surprise.

"We didn't anticipate this," said his counsel, Mr Lynn.

The man's deportation is stalled and his case could yet go all the way to European Court of Human Rights.

Sunday Independent

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