Monday 21 August 2017

Analysis: Threat of extremist attack in Ireland lies more with the lone wolf - but what are we doing to prevent it?

It would be very difficult for extremists to develop a number of active cells in this country - but we cannot afford to be complacent

Emergency services at Manchester Arena after the explosion. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Emergency services at Manchester Arena after the explosion. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins speaks to the media in Manchester where he said that the death toll from the Manchester bomb attack has risen to 22 with 59 injured. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Declan Power

Aside from the litany of personal tragedies created by the Manchester attack on Monday, is the disturbing fact that this event was far more sophisticated than any previous attempted attacks seen in the UK since the London bombings of July 2007.

The use of explosives, the identification of the security weak point in the venue and the maximising of casualties by use of shrapnel in the device show a level of competency and planning not seen in the UK since July 2005.

Recent attacks in both the UK and European mainland have largely been carried out by lone actors or small groups with limited expertise in planning or ability to source weapons.

The Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris were the last attacks that indicated some level of communal planning and tactical awareness on behalf of the terrorists.

Police close to the Manchester Arena the morning after a suspected terrorist attack at the end of a concert by US star Ariana Grande left 22 dead. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Police close to the Manchester Arena the morning after a suspected terrorist attack at the end of a concert by US star Ariana Grande left 22 dead. Peter Byrne/PA Wire

In the case of the Manchester attack, someone had to source the explosives for the attack. That kind of thing usually requires engagement with the criminal underworld and therefore fraught with risk that police informers will become suspicious and pass information to their handler.

Usually, the suicide attacker is the least qualified of a terrorist team and groomed by others to carry out such an act.

An injured woman is helped out of the Manchester Arena after last night’s blast at a gig by Ariana Grande, which left 19 dead
Police escort members of the public from the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Police stand by a cordoned off street close to the Manchester Arena. Photo: Dave Thompson/Getty Images
Two women wrapped in thermal blankets stand near the Manchester Arena. Photo: Reuters
Concert goers react after fleeing the Manchester Arena after the explosion.
Concert goers wait to be picked up at the scene of a suspected terrorist attack during a pop concert by US star Ariana Grande in Manchester
A tweet from U.S. singer Ariana Grande is seen as she makes her first comment since a bombing at her concert in Manchester
Armed police man roadblocks outside the arena after reports of an explosion at the venue during an Ariana Grande gig. Photo: PA
A police officer escorts people near the Manchester Arena
Police escort members of the public from the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
People running down stairs as they attempt to exit the Manchester Arena after a blast
Police corden off an area close to the Box Office entrance to the Manchester Arena. Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images
Emergency services at the scene. Photo: PA
A police officer talks to locals outside the Manchester Arena. Photo: Reuters
Armed police officers stand outside the Manchester Arena. Photo: Reuters
An armoured police Land Rover drives away from the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
People sit by the side of the road next to a police cordon outside the Manchester Arena. Photo: Reuters
Still image taken from video shows a street scene near Manchester Arena after the blast
Armed police block a road near to the Manchester Arena

So now this begs the question as to could such an event happen in Ireland?

While Islamic State's claim of responsibility for the attack will be a major headache for the UK authorities as to how such a cell or organisation grew in their midst, it will be a source of comfort to authorities on this side of the Irish Sea.

Based on the facts that we are a smaller population, with a much smaller Islamic population within than in the UK, means that it would be very difficult for some extremist grouping to develop a number of active cells in this country to plan for such an attack.

However we cannot afford to be complacent, we have seen recently how the Garda’s Counter Terrorism International section and elements of the Defence Force Military Intelligence Directorate (G2) recently closed down an alleged financial support network operating out of Ireland as part of a greater operation emanating from the UK.

It is not beyond comprehension to think elements of more violently focused networks in the UK could develop nodes of their network in Ireland in order to diversify their operation and avoid detection in planning and sourcing of materials for operation.

However, the greatest likelihood of an extremist attack in Ireland still lies more with the lone actor who is home produced.

The young self-radicalized Irish man who is born and reared here and who decides to perpetrate an act of violence against those who the likes of Islamic State deem to be his enemy.

What are we doing to prevent that?

Declan Power is an independent security analyst and writer. He has worked with the European Commission on various counter-extremism and terrorism projects in Africa and the Middle East.

Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins speaks to the media in Manchester where he said that the death toll from the Manchester bomb attack has risen to 22 with 59 injured. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins speaks to the media in Manchester where he said that the death toll from the Manchester bomb attack has risen to 22 with 59 injured. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

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