Friday 19 January 2018

Gardaí focus on sympathisers with links to 'terror cell' in Manchester

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Picture: AP
Suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Picture: AP

Tom Brady and Kevin Doyle

Anti-terror gardaí are now closely examining any known links between jihadi sympathisers here and suspects operating in the Manchester area.

Officers are focusing in particular on sympathisers with Libyan connections in an effort to establish if there had been contacts between those here and suspected members of the Manchester terror cell.

They are probing whether contact was made either directly or through social media.

Gardaí from the crime and security branch, as well as military intelligence, are monitoring the activities of a small group of sympathisers believed to be providing logistical support to terror groups - these included a handful of Libyans.

Libya has become the key focus of investigators in the UK who are looking for clues to the background and accomplices of Salman Abedi, the bomber who killed 22 at a concert in Manchester last week.

He spent several weeks in Libya and returned to Manchester just days before he carried out the atrocity at the end of an Ariana Grande concert. His brother, Hashem, was arrested in the capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday on suspicion of having ties to Isil which claimed responsibility for the bomb attack.

Read More: Hate crime doubles in Manchester following concert carnage

The security authorities here are keeping in daily contact with their counterparts in the UK, where police and MI5 are convinced that an active terror cell has been based in the Manchester area for some time and is ready to strike again.

This led the British government to raise the threat level from severe to critical, which means that another attack could be imminent.

Britain's top counter terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said yesterday they had "got hold of a large part" of the terror network believed to have included the suicide bomber.

The Garda is one of a number of outside police forces liaising closely with the British and sharing any intelligence that might be used to the massive investigation.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald told the Irish Independent that the Manchester attack shows "no one can be immune from this threat".

"The expert advice is that while an attack here is possible, it is unlikely," she said.

The Justice Minister said that gardaí, and where necessary the Defence Forces, will take "all possible steps to deal with any threat to this country".

"We can never afford to be complacent. Terrorism respects no boundaries."

Mrs Fitzgerald confirmed there are a "small number of people here whose activities are a cause for concern in terms of supporting terrorism".

"They will continue to be monitored by the authorities, and where evidence is available, they will face the full rigours of the law."

Mrs Fitzgerald said gardaí are working "very closely" with their international security and intelligence counterparts in the EU - but that there is "a particularly close operational relationship with the authorities in Britain and Northern Ireland, especially in respect of ensuring the security of the Common Travel Area".

"Terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any one religion or race; the only people responsible for acts of terrorism are the evil people who carry them out," Mrs Fitzgerald said.

She described the Manchester attack as a "cowardly and evil act that has taken the lives of many innocent and defenceless people who were simply going about their daily lives, enjoying a concert".

"Whatever has motivated this terrorist outrage, there can simply never, ever by any justification for such inhumanity."

Gardaí are planning to expand their liaison network, which will boost security co-operation overseas, and at the same time improve the sharing of information here, in the fight against terror and, particularly, organised crime.

Officers are also taking a second look at existing security precautions for big public events and concerts planned for the summer.

Gardaí are working closely with event organisers to ensure that appropriate safety and security measures are in place for the events.

Talks are also being regularly held with the Defence Forces and other emergency services and aviation, shipping, transport and communications authorities aimed at preventing any attack taking place and detailed preparations had been made if an attack was carried out.

Last month, the Irish Independent disclosed that temporary barriers were being erected on crowded pedestrianised streets to prevent attacks using trucks or other vehicles.

The use of special barriers and bollards, capable of withstanding direct impacts and preventing a vehicle from hitting its intended target, will become more commonplace in the coming months.

Irish Independent

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