New passport data checks at Dublin airport to combat jihadi terror threat
Dublin Airport officers carrying out instant Interpol searches
New passport checks linked to an Interpol database are being carried out at Dublin Airport amid the heightened threat of global terrorism.
The move has already become a key part of immigration security and is also seen as a big boost to anti-terrorism efforts to track the movements of suspected jihadis.
It comes as police forces across Europe review security arrangements for events over Christmas and New Year following the deadly incidents in Berlin and Ankara on Monday.
Twelve people died after a lorry ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital in what police believe was a deliberate terrorist attack.
The carnage came hours after Russia's ambassador to Turkey was gunned down at a photography exhibition in Ankara.
In major security developments at Dublin Airport, immigration officers can now carry out instant checks on passports and other travel documents with the international database.
Up until recently, checks with Interpol could only be carried out infrequently at the airport - and usually in circumstances where there were already suspicions.
But the new automated system has now been developed and gives an instant response from Interpol.
Security measures have been tightened up considerably since the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium over the past year.
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The Irish and British governments have signed a deal for the exchange of details of passenger lists for all airlines and ferry companies operating within the common travel area.
The threat level here remains at 'moderate', which means that a jihadi terror attack is possible but not likely.
But concerns remain that fighters returning to Europe from Syria could use Ireland as a transit point with the aid of false documentation.
A new automated system has now been developed that provides for passports and other travel documents to be scanned and an automatic 'hit/not hit' response received from the Interpol database.
A senior immigration official told the Irish Independent: "This enables the system to be deployed to front line immigration officers at control booths."
The system went live on November 29 at Dublin Airport.
During the initial phase of the project, it was introduced for non-European economic area flights.
But because of a better than expected implementation, it has already been extended considerably to other flights by border management staff at the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS).
It is estimated that about 100,000 passengers were checked in the first two weeks alone. About half of Terminal 1 passengers were checked in week one and the rate has increased since, reaching 72pc during one 24-hour period.
Over the first seven days, 17 hits were reported, including one case of a non-European economic area national travelling on a stolen EU passport. The other cases involved lost documents that were subsequently found by their owners and not reported by them.
The immigration official said the operation of the system was being monitored in the run-up to Christmas to ensure a balance was struck between maximising the volume of checks and ensuring there was no negative impact on passengers arriving here over the holiday period.
A more formal review will be held by the gardaí and INIS early in the new year and this is expected to result in extending the automated system to other air, and possibly sea, ports around the country.
It comes as police in Britain have stepped up patrols at Christmas markets in the wake of the events in Berlin.
Scotland Yard is reviewing security arrangements for events in London over Christmas and New Year.
Greater Manchester Police said it had strengthened its presence at the markets, which have almost 350 stalls spread across 10 sites in the city.
Meanwhile in Ireland, Garda anti-terrorist units and military intelligence continue to monitor the activities of a small group on a watch list. They are suspected of providing logistical support, such as false documentation or identity cards, or acting as recruitment agents for outfits like Isil.
And members of the elite counter terrorist sections, including the Garda Emergency Response Unit and the Army Ranger wing, have recently been training together on how to deal with the jihadi threat.