Units to counter terrorism step up training
Ireland’s elite counter- terrorism units have significantly increased their training to deal with the threat posed by jihadi fighters in the past year.
Both the Garda Emergency Response Unit and the Army Ranger Wing have undergone intensive training to cope with a terrorist attack.
Their training was expanded since the threat level was increased early this year from “low” to “moderate”, which means a terror attack in this country is possible but not likely.
A meeting of the national security committee, which includes the Garda Commissioner, Defence Forces Chief of Staff, and their main Garda and army security advisers, as well as senior officials from the Departments of Justice, Defence and Foreign Affairs, was held on the Saturday afternoon after the latest Paris atrocities. It was agreed that the threat level should remain at moderate.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Defence Minister Simon Coveney and Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan, who traditionally do not attend committee meetings, were all given detailed briefings afterwards.
Gardaí from the Emergency Response Unit have trained overseas with the French, Dutch, Germans, Finns, British and PSNI forces and have also undergone joint training at home with the Ranger Wing.
A senior Garda officer told the Irish Independent last night that the ERU was given “very sophisticated” training, including hostage-taking incidents, sieges, and dealing with attackers who are heavily armed and possibly wearing suicide vests.
The Army Ranger Wing is currently selecting potential new recruits. Its numbers increased to more than 100 in 2014, allowing it to expand its role at home and overseas. The defence White Paper, published this summer, will result in a further 50pc increase over the next few years.
The Rangers first became involved as a unit in peace enforcement missions overseas in Somalia in 1994 and have since served in missions in East Timor, Liberia, Chad and the Balkans. Both the Garda and the Army have a number of Arabic speakers in their ranks with a significant group available to military intelligence as a result of Defence Forces deployment overseas.
Gardaí also have what security officials call a linguistic skill base available to them, “when the need requires it”.
While the Garda is the primary agency in tackling terrorism, military intelligence also plays a vital role in combating the international threat.
The security authorities here are also involved in monitoring the movements of those suspected of travelling from here to Syria and Iraq to join up jihadi factions, and are co-operating closely with other agencies overseas to find out their latest movements. Gardaí say there is no recent evidence of foreign fighters returning here to become actively involved in activities.
A security expert pointed out that it is “extremely difficult” to train to tackle a suicide bomber wearing a bomb vest.