How we're tracking jihadis with Britain
Published 01/09/2014 | 02:30
A joint watch list on suspect jihadi fighters is being operated by the Irish and British authorities to prevent terrorists slipping into either jurisdiction through a back-door route.
Immigration officers are already sharing information dossiers on a daily basis relating to visa applicants as they track suspects trying to evade controls and entry checks.
But plans are now being finalised to build up the data sharing co-operation to an unprecedented level.
These will include cross-checking on airline passenger information, focusing particularly on flights to or from conflict zones and Irish and British airports.
Details of fingerprint checks made during immigration checks will also be shared, the Irish Independent has learnt.
News of the historic operation to share intelligence comes after Irish peacekeepers posted on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights engaged in heavy machine gun fire as they helped rescue 38 Filipino soldiers from al-Qa'ida-linked forces.
The warning shots achieved their aim and members of the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qa'ida affiliate in Syria, withdrew from the area.
The Irish action allowed 38 Filipino soldiers to withdraw from the UN post at Braika, within the buffer zone between Syria and Israel, to a safer position.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney said that Ireland is still "committed" to the UN mission but added that troops were "in danger of being dragged into a very nasty, very violent and very bitter civil war in Syria".
Over the weekend the UK's terror threat level was raised from "substantial" to "severe" as officials said the ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria made the chances of a terrorist attack "highly likely".
As a result, British-born jihadis in Iraq and Syria could be temporarily banned from returning to the UK under plans being considered by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Anglo-Irish blueprint to tackle international terrorism jointly stems from an agreement worked out by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Cameron and then developed at quarterly meetings of senior Irish and British immigration officers.
Last month, this newspaper revealed how jihadis, using Ireland as a base for regular trips to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq, face losing their citizenship of this country.
This followed confirmation that garda and military intelligence had pinpointed 30 jihadi fighters, who were resident here but travelling often to the combat areas.
A close relationship has now been built up between top level staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the British Foreign Office on several of the issues involved, backing up existing co-operation in the justice area.
Both governments are seriously concerned about radicalisation and security risks posed by jihadis, who return from their home countries to the UK or Ireland and attempt to recruit new accomplices, not known to the authorities.
The British government has been under particular pressure to find extremists living there since a video emerged of an Isil militant with a London accent beheading American journalist James Foley.
The Department of Justice said last night that Ireland was fully committed to safeguarding the security of the common travel area and this was given the highest priority by the immigration service.
Operational and data sharing co-operation with the UK immigration authorities was at an all-time high on issues ranging from visas to asylum, citizenship and border control, it added.
This will be enhanced in the coming months using cutting edge automated systems to extend the information share and increase the level of cross checking. Ireland is also currently working on proposals to develop an advance passenger information system, requiring airlines and other carriers to provide data about passengers. This protocol is likely to be fully operational in the coming months.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the phenomenon of individuals travelling from all over Europe to the fighting in the Middle East was a concern to the majority of European states and others internationally.
Read more: Peacekeepers in 'greatest escape'
Gardai are monitoring the movements of suspects and have so far found no evidence of a radicalisation campaign here.
At the same time, officers working with the inter-cultural office are liaising with the relevant communities to counter any attempt to recruit young people as jihadis.
David Cameron is expected to set out new plans counter the threat posed by Islamic State militants today.
Around 500 people from the UK are believed to have travelled to combat zones in Syria and Iraq. However some experts say the real figure could be much higher.
Wide ranging changes to the terrorist prevention and investigation measures system, that replaced control orders, are also in the pipeline.
The British government has already removed passports from 23 suspects since a new law was enacted last year.
However, that must be viewed against an influx of some 250 British passport holders, who are thought to have returned from the conflict in Syria and Iraq.