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Tuesday 24 January 2017

Gardai to help Tunisians with Isil murder case

Investigation into terror attack which claimed the lives of three Irish tourists 'still ongoing'

Paul Williams

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

Victim: Lorna Carty was shot dead
Victim: Lorna Carty was shot dead
John O'Mahoney Photo: Mark Condren

Garda counter-terrorism officers are due to travel to Tunisia this week to liaise with authorities investigating the murders of three Irish tourists in a massacre carried out by an Islamic State terrorist.

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Husband and wife Larry and Martina Hayes from Athlone, Co Westmeath, and mother-of-two Lorna Carty, from Robinstown, Co Meath, were among 38 holiday-makers shot dead on a beach in the resort of Port El Kantaoui near Sousse on July 26 last year.

Isil claimed responsibility for the mass-murder outrage carried out by 23-year-old Seifeddine Rezgui, who opened fire on the unsuspecting tourists with an AK47.

Rezgui was shot dead by security forces after the worst terrorist outrage in Tunisia's history and a major international investigation is now ongoing. It is understood that detectives from the Counter Terrorism International (CTI) unit, led by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney, are travelling to Tunis to assist in the investigation.

Gardai have met with the families of the murder victims and kept them up to date on the follow-up inquiry. They are also working closely with Eurojust, the EU agency which assists judicial and legal co-operation in international criminal investigations.

Assistant Commissioner O'Mahoney confirmed that the investigation into the deaths is ongoing. "While we are very much involved in tackling a possible threat at home, we are also very much involved with our counterparts across the world," he told the Sunday Independent. "The murder of three Irish people in Tunisia is very much a live inquiry as far as we are concerned and that is why we are liaising with the authorities there.

"The deaths of Lorna Carty and Larry and Martina Hayes while sitting on a beach are reminder of how the terror threat impacts on all our citizens. The global threat is such that it requires all national security services to be permanently vigilant and working in harmony together sharing, updating and validating intelligence," he said.

As the officer in charge of the Garda Crime and Security Branch, Mr O'Mahoney has overall responsibility for all counter-terrorism measures.

Last week, he revealed that an additional heavily armed Regional Support Unit (RSU) is being established in Dublin to free up the Emergency Response Unit for other operations, including counter terrorism. Gardai have an undisclosed number of Isil suspects under constant surveillance and the force has forged a strong relationship with the Muslim community in Ireland.

"We have a longstanding trusting and mutually respectful relationship with the Muslim community and it is important to stress that the vast majority of this community want nothing to do with extremists such as Isil," Mr O'Mahoney said. "This relationship has been developed in conjunction with the Garda Racial Intercultural and Diversity Office (GRIDO) as part of our ethos, which is based on community policing."

The State's counter-terrorism supremo also revealed that the security services have drafted strategic and operational plans to deal with Paris-style terror attacks after re-creating them in elaborate training exercises. The exercise scenarios are regularly played out in desk-top drills designed to test the responses of the gardai, Army and emergency services in the event of an attack.

Assistant Commissioner O'Mahoney and his staff were briefed on the Paris attacks to assess what lessons could be learned by the Irish security services. "We received extensive briefings on the anatomy of the various attacks, including the incidents in Paris and we use that information in our preparatory training and operational plans here at home.

"We also use it to re-create attack scenarios for table-top exercises to assess our response capabilities. The exercises in Templemore are of an operational nature, while others are designed to concentrate on our strategic response. The purpose is to co-ordinate the response of all the various stakeholders and assist in drawing contingency plans in the unlikely event that they are required," Mr O'Mahoney added.

Since the Paris attacks, the Department of Justice has chaired a table-top exercise with all the relevant inter-government agencies and emergency services. Several government departments including those of the Taoiseach, Justice, Foreign Affairs and Defence, as well as the gardai, Army, fire and ambulance services took part in the drill.

"These are hugely beneficial exercises because all the stakeholders can familiarise themselves with what is required in a worst-case scenario.

"There is no room for complacency, we must be vigilant 24/7," said Mr O'Mahoney.

Sunday Independent

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