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Thursday 27 April 2017

Gardaí stop Isil fighters leaving for Syria

Officers from the Counter Terrorism International (CTI) unit have engaged with individuals intent on leaving Ireland for war zones such as Syria and Iraq. Stock photo
Officers from the Counter Terrorism International (CTI) unit have engaged with individuals intent on leaving Ireland for war zones such as Syria and Iraq. Stock photo

Paul Williams

Detailed emergency plans involving Government and the security forces have been drafted following realistic exercises based on the Paris attacks.

And garda officials have been travelling to Jordan, Lebanon and Greece to vet refugees coming to Ireland in a bid to weed out radicals.

The officer spearheading the State's counter-terrorism operations has revealed that garda counter-terrorism officers have also engaged with people intent on travelling to war zones in the Middle East.

Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney, the head of the Garda Crime and Security branch, said that up to 40 individuals travelled from Ireland to participate in various conflicts there since 2010.

Mr O'Mahoney said that the Gardaí were part of a global security response to the threat.

"The current security situation presents one of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement in the western world. This is an unprecedented global phenomenon which does not respect national borders and utilises the digital age where the internet and social media are used to radicalise and recruit people and incite terrorist acts.

"The situation requires all national security services to be vigilant and working in harmony together sharing, updating and validating intelligence.

"I can say that the co-operation between the various agencies is at its highest level ever."

Officers from the Counter Terrorism International (CTI) unit under his command have engaged with individuals intent on leaving Ireland for war zones such as Syria and Iraq.

"We have been tipped off by concerned families or friends of people who have been radicalised and want to travel, and this has been dealt with discreetly.

"Our officers also engage with people coming back from these war zones with a view to assessing the threat they pose," he said.

The Assistant Commissioner revealed that officers from the Special Detective Unit and officials from the Department of Justice were involved in vetting refugees coming to Ireland.

"It is important not to conflate the refugee crisis with the terrorist threat from Isil. The vast majority of people coming from the Middle East have a genuine reason for fleeing the conflict," he stressed.

"However, it would be naïve for us not to suspect that a group like Isil did not seek to benefit in some way and effectively hide amongst the tide of human misery coming to our shores. Members of the SDU and officials from the Department of Justice have boots on the ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Greece to vet the refugees coming here so as to mitigate the threat as much as possible."

Attack

Describing the global threat as "unprecedented", he said that the Gardaí and the other state services were trained and prepared for an attack.

"An Garda Síochána has combated domestic terrorism for almost 50 years with considerable success. As a result, we have a formidable skills base in this field, which means we are well able to face this challenge. But it is important to stress the threat assessment is that an attack is possible but it is unlikely."

Mr O'Mahoney said that the garda's elite tactical units, the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the Regional Support Units, had also increased training in response to the mounting terror threat.

Meanwhile, the Defence Forces are advising other international agencies dealing with Islamic terror threats, particularly on the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal units - or bomb squads - gained their expertise dealing with Provisional IRA bombs over 40 years and from operating in war zones with the EU and UN. They put on display their equipment and carry out a live exercise involving the detonation of a number of devices.

The Irish Defence Forces are leading the way in devising a Europe-wide strategy on IEDs. Islamic terror groups' weapons of choice are IEDs, vest bombs used by suicide bombers and roadside bombs. Islamic State is making bombs based on devices designed by Provisional IRA bomb makers, which were sold on to other terror groups during the Peace Process.

Irish Independent

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