Tuesday 27 September 2016

Even in Ireland we must be vigilant against attack by Isil

Sheelagh Brady

Published 17/11/2015 | 02:30

The Irish Defence Forces and An Garda Siochana historically have had significant experience dealing with domestic terrorism and intelligence gathering. Stock picture
The Irish Defence Forces and An Garda Siochana historically have had significant experience dealing with domestic terrorism and intelligence gathering. Stock picture

As shock turns to a sombre reality in France, nations across Europe look inward to assess their own vulnerabilities to a similar attack occurring at home.

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No country is immune.

If the Paris attacks were carried out by Isil, they - alongside recent attacks in Ankara, Beirut and the alleged bomb on a Russian airline over Egypt - collectively illustrate a shift in Isil's modus operandi.

The motivation for this shift has been attributed to a backlash against the military offensives in Syria and Iraq, resulting in a loss of territory within their 'Caliphate'.

This message was echoed in a statement allegedly issued by Isil in a video after the Paris attacks.

No solace can be gleamed in Ireland, even though we are not directly involved in air strikes, given that previous Isil statements have called on supporters around the world to attack at home.

Such statements have the ability to motivate and incite attacks.

At least 30 Irish nationals have left Ireland and gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with Isil, according to a report from King's College, London. So the presence of such individuals in Ireland is likely.

Such individuals may be motivated to conduct copycat or lone wolf attacks to demonstrate their allegiance and to maximise the feeling of fear and terror. Ireland is also vulnerable to returnee fighters. That said, individuals who have left Ireland to fight are unlikely to present an equal threat to Ireland on their return. Research has shown many foreign fighters come back home disillusioned, whilst others see themselves as freedom fighters, both unlikely to pose a significant risk on return.

For those here at home who do support Isil, it is likely that they see Irish society through a different lens and are likely to identify numerous factors which provide justifications for attacks. For example, the US use of Shannon airport is likely to be perceived as a provocateur.

Earlier this year Anjem Choudary, a radical preacher in the UK, claimed that Muslims who opposed US foreign policy did not see Ireland as a neutral country, especially given that many of the US planes landing are reported to be carrying troops, weaponry and equipment en-route to or from the Middle East. Such actions alongside statements of support for increased intervention in Syria are likely to be seen as a compromise of our neutrality.

Other provocations may come from the level of US companies in Ireland as well as a perception of a compromised nation with regard to lifestyle. However, Ireland has some positive factors which may help to mitigate such a threat. The Irish Defence Forces and An Garda Siochana historically have had significant experience dealing with domestic terrorism and intelligence gathering. However, the threat associated with Isil requires considerable skillsets. For example, research increasingly points to Isil's use of the internet for grooming and recruitment. Monitoring and infiltrating such communication is paramount but resource heavy. The ability of the security forces in Ireland in this area is unlikely to be adequately resourced and one slip-up can result in a serious incident as it only takes a few of individuals to turn to violence for something terrible to happen. An incident, regardless of how small, is likely to have serious implications for Ireland and may polarise society; a society to date which has welcomed people of different countries and faiths for years and has allowed them worship and practise their religion freely. New communities to Ireland have valued this freedom. This sense of freedom of expression has been seen of late amongst the Muslim community, having become increasingly vocal in public challenging extremist views. The anti-Isil 'not in our name' demonstration organised by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council in Dublin earlier in the year, clearly illustrates that the Islamic community is proactive in its efforts to denounce the use of Islam as an excuse for terror.

Such an approach is likely to have a positive impact for Ireland given that previous research suggests that building social resilience and providing clarity around realities is important in reducing the number of people wanting to travel and join Isil.

That said, Ireland cannot become complacent and needs to assess the extent of measures it is willing to fund to mitigate against a high impact, low probability incident of this nature.

Sheelagh Brady is a Senior Security Analyst with SAR Consultancy

Irish Independent

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