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Sunday 24 September 2017

Former-spy warns Ireland 'soft touch' for so-called Islamic State

Former al-Qaeda member says this country is a 'fertile ground' for recruiting new jihadis

Garda armed support unit Stock picture
Garda armed support unit Stock picture

Shona Murray and Mark O'Regan

Ireland is seen as a "soft-touch" for a possible terror attack, and is regarded as fertile ground for recruiting and fundraising by extremists, according to a former al-Qaeda member who is now a security expert.

In the wake of the Manchester bombing, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said an attack on Ireland was "possible but not likely".

However, Aimen Dean, a former bomb-maker and al-Qaeda recruiter, who in 2007 personally pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, insists that Ireland offers Isil-like terror groups "ample opportunities".

He was an early member of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation - but he changed sides in 1998 and became a spy for Britain's security and intelligence services, MI5 and MI6.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he stressed it is common knowledge among Jihadists that Ireland can be a "safe haven" for terrorists.

"It is a country which has no central intelligence service of its own; it depends on foreign intelligence to anticipate threats."

Gardai are planning to take part in a series of security exercises with specialist units from other European police forces. Stock picture
Gardai are planning to take part in a series of security exercises with specialist units from other European police forces. Stock picture

Dean, now an international security expert, left al-Qaeda almost 20 years ago after the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed.

Twelve Americans and more than 200 local people - mostly Muslims - were killed.

Thousands of other people were left seriously injured.

The killings provoked Dean to re-evaluate his commitment to the cause.

He went on to become an undercover agent for the British intelligence service MI6, having defected from al-Qaeda as his doubts grew about its violent methods.

Through his work, he says he helped foil various attacks against civilians - including possible suicide bombings and poison attacks.

He says it's "rather naive" to think Ireland - which he described as a "soft target" - is safe from an attack.

And while Isil isn't necessarily targeting this country - it could take advantage of our tourist industry.

Visitors from the UK, US, and Europe, who come to Ireland for cultural events could "become easy targets".

"It's an agricultural land, which means it is easy to obtain bomb-making materials... You also have the fact that there are many weapons in the north of the island - illegal weapons," he stressed.

He says Isil has "smashed all the red-lines" regarding who or what is considered a legitimate target.

He believes the Irish authorities would "struggle" if there was a sudden increase in the number of people moving here to carry out recruitment and fundraising campaigns.

He pointed out that the Garda relied heavily on intelligence-sharing with the UK, the US and other EU countries to track down suspects.

Although there is no single personality type that fits the description of a would-be suicide bomber, the common denominator is a belief that the "moment they set off a device", they will be crossing to an after-life which is "far better than the life they left".

Dean says recruiters play on emotions such as fear and resentment.

They try to convince those who might carry out a terror attack that the life they have here is "not going in the right direction".

Gardai are planning to take part in a series of security exercises with specialist units from other European police forces.

Joint training between the police forces is already well advanced in a bid to streamline the response to the growing threat from international terrorism.

Senior Garda officers are also reviewing current tactics and planning to protect the public and prevent an atrocity here.

The threat level in this country remains at "moderate" after the Manchester bombing. This means a terror attack here is possible, but not likely.

However, Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan says the face of terrorism, and related activity, is constantly changing, and the force had to make sure it was able to respond to whatever threat arose.

Sunday Independent

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