Saturday 19 January 2019

Irish citizen held in Syria was on Garda 'watch-list' over Isil activity

Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev
Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev

Tom Brady, Conor Feehan and Ken Foy

An Irish citizen being held by Kurdish fighters in Syria was regarded by gardaí as a key member of an Isil logistics cell here.

Gardaí have also established that Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev was radicalised in Dublin shortly after becoming an Irish citizen in 2010. Bekmirzaev left Ireland for the Middle East in 2013 and some months later, his wife and young child also left.

He arrived in Ireland from Belarus in 2000 and became a naturalised Irish citizen in 2010 after going through a lengthy application process.

Bekmirzaev had never come to negative Garda attention before becoming a citizen. However, by 2011 he was on the radar of specialist counter-terrorism intelligence (CTI) officers in the force's Special Detective Unit (SDU).

A senior source said gardaí suspected that he was actively involved in "fundraising for Isil" and he, along with a number of his associates, had been under detailed surveillance for over two years.

They were also suspected of providing forged passports and other false identity documents.

"He was one of around a dozen people at the time who were on a specific 'security watch-list' in relation to Islamic terrorist activity," a senior source told the Irish Independent.

"There were serious concerns about his activities before he left the country and there were genuine fears of what he may have been capable of," the source added.

The senior source also revealed that Bekmirzaev lived in a number of rented properties across Dublin during his 13 years here, including in the north and south inner city and on the capital's southside.

He disappeared off the intelligence radar until he and four others were detained by the Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Forces as they fled towards a region controlled by the Kurds and US forces to avoid capture by Syrian government forces.

Today, the Irish Independent can reveal that in the summer of 2011 Bekmirzaev established a grocery store on Dublin's busy Talbot Street and lived nearby in a flat on Seville Place.

Documents lodged with the Companies Registration Office show that Bekmirzaev's business was registered as Mix Food Store.

Meanwhile, a leading Irish-based Muslim cleric has slammed the reaction of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the capture.

Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Quadri, chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council and Chief Imam and Mufti at the Islamic Centre Ireland, said he expected a stronger message from the Government on the issue.

When asked about the news that a naturalised Irish person was a suspected Isil terrorist, Mr Varadkar said: "Any Irish citizen around the world is entitled to consular assistance and will get that."

But Dr Al-Quadri said: "The Irish Government needs to have a clear policy on how it will deal with situations like these.

"The Taoiseach's statement is alarming and disturbing."

"Someone who is an Irish citizen has travelled abroad to take part in terrorism which undermines the very values of our society, the values of democracy, religious freedom, and religious plurality. They want to destroy these values."

Irish Independent

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