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Exposed: US embassy is top terror risk

EXCLUSIVE JIM CUSACK THE Government has appointed extra Garda Special Branch officers to protect the US and Israeli embassies in Dublin following warnings that they are among the most vulnerable to terrorist attacks in Europe.

The US embassy, which installed a blast wall and a reinforced steel and concrete entrance after the September 11 attacks, was assessed as the most vulnerable US embassy last year after threats were issued by Al-Qaeda to attack "smaller, softer targets."

The risk assessment of attack in Dublin was carried out by army specialists before Ireland's EU presidency. The security of US embassies across Europe was also looked at.

The Sunday Independent has learned that two weeks ago an additional 20 detectives were appointed to the Special Branch, and all are to be deployed in embassy and diplomatic protection.

It was the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in Madrid, Spain, last March killing almost 200 people which spurred the Government to action.

The US embassy in Ballsbridge is most vulnerable to attack by a large bomb as it is close to the apex of Ballsbridge and Clyde Road.

The army report states that despite the vulnerability of the US embassy, the risk of attack in Ireland is low and for the moment there are no plans to move the embassy.

The complacency about security against terrorist attack is reflected in a nationwide Sunday Independent telephone poll which found that 13 per cent worried about an Al-Qaeda attack on Irish soil with 87 per cent notworried.

But only three per cent believed Irish security forces were prepared for such anattack, while a massive 97per cent thought they were not prepared.

Yesterday a leading security expert said there wasa worrying degree of complacency about an attack, given Ireland's close cultural connection with the US and Britain.

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John Henry, whose company provides risk assessment for individuals and firms, said: "It places us at risk especially as Ireland is seen generally worldwide as the commercial hub between the US and mainland Europe."

He added: "An attack on Irish soil would provide great symbolism. Why should we believe that we are exempt from any threat in view of worldwide trends and evidence available to us?"

The Sunday Independent poll found that a majority (53 per cent) thought Ireland's close ties to the US made us a target against 47 per cent who did not think so.

Mr Henry's warning came as a militant group claiming links to Al-Qaeda yesterday said its cells in Italy are ready to strike if the country does not withdraw its troops from Iraq. A 15-day deadline given by the group expires next weekend. Gardai say that while the risk threat to the US and Israeli embassies is currently described as "low", this situation will only remain so long as a high level of security surrounds both buildings.

Security is likely to be enhanced further following the latest security threat reports which have emerged in recent weeks following the arrest of Al-Qaeda's communications expert and the seizure of a computer in Lahore in Pakistan.

It is understood that examination of the computer's hard drive revealed that Al-Qaeda had been carrying out surveillance on the US embassy in Nairobi in Kenya for two years prior to attack which killed over 200 people.

According to security sources, no mention of Ireland was contained on the seized computer files, but given the fact that there have been known Al-Qaeda figures here for almost a decade it is almost certain they carried out surveillance on potential targets in Dublin's embassy area.

Army Intelligence and the Garda Special Branch have significantly increased their surveillance and intelligence gathering on suspected Al-Qaeda figures here.

According to security sources, the belief is that while there is a small Al-Qaeda network here, its members are "non-operational" and involved mainly in providing financial assistance for the European terrorist network, manufacturing fake identities and fakecredit cards and recruiting young people to the organisation.

The military and Garda intelligence services are understood to be monitoring a number of figures in south inner Dublin who they believe either actively or passively support Al-Qaeda.

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