News Irish News

Saturday 17 March 2018

UK terror intelligence fuels surge in Garda ops

Jihadis on Garda watch list double to 70 as more terror sympathisers are hunted down

ROYAL VISIT: Queen Letizia of Spain consoles Irish girl Nailah Potot and her family at Hospital del Mar in Barcelona yesterday. Picture: AFP
ROYAL VISIT: Queen Letizia of Spain consoles Irish girl Nailah Potot and her family at Hospital del Mar in Barcelona yesterday. Picture: AFP

Maeve Sheehan and Philip Ryan

The Garda's counter-terrorist unit is conducting more raids, searches and arrests than ever before linked to supporters of Isil, security sources say.

New figures reported yesterday reveal that the numbers of suspected Jihadi sympathisers on a Garda watch list has doubled to more than 70, with a group of 20 to 30 of those believed to be in direct contact with terror cells in Europe.

The level of counter-terrorist activity has increased accordingly, according to security sources.

A senior Government minister last night said it was "inevitable" that Garda anti-terror operations had scaled up because of the rise in Jihadi terrorist attacks across Europe. The focus of those operations was on movement of individuals between Ireland and the UK and on abuses of the visa system, the minister said: "It's inevitable that there is an increase with what is happening in the world with terrorism. The whole area of security will have to get a higher priority."

However, one of the biggest factors affecting the increase in counter-terrorism activity here was the surge in intelligence dispatched by international security forces when an Irish connection was uncovered in terrorist investigations overseas.

In one recent operation, London Metropolitan police discovered a fake document linked to a terrorist suspect in Greece. With the help of gardai, they traced the document back to a previously unknown suspected sympathiser in Drumcondra in north Dublin.

Irish and London forces launched a joint operation, monitoring the suspect for several months before arresting him in July.

The man, an Algerian, has lived in Ireland for several years. He is suspected of counterfeiting hundreds of travel and identification documents and selling them to Isil sympathisers. Passports and other documents and printing equipment were seized when his property was raided. The man was released without charge.

In May, the Garda's Counter Terrorism International unit carried out simultaneous raids on houses in Stepaside in south Dublin, and in Swords, in north county, and arrested two men on suspicion of laundering money for Isil. One was a Moroccan and the other was an Algerian. Both had lived in Ireland for several years. Again, the intelligence came from overseas.

The men were suspected of transferring money to Isil abroad, through accounts based in Ireland. The raids led to further searches, in other properties, on the South Circular Road in Dublin and in Meath. Both men were released without charge and a file is still with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

British and Irish police forces have been working closely together on another suspected Isil fundraising case that is currently before the courts here.

Most of the sympathisers operating here appear to be largely involved in fundraising, money laundering and counterfeiting documents for jihadis overseas, according to the security source.

A Jordanian man who was deported last year was one of their key targets, and was described as being one of Isil's key facilitators, organising funds and travel documents. He lived in an apartment in north Dublin, attended mosques and had friends in the community. Khalid Kelly, the Liberties-born convert to Islam who blew himself in a Jihadi bomb in Iraq, stayed with him before leaving Ireland.

A number of suspected sympathisers have been deported or are before the courts fighting their deportations.

A potential gap in Garda intelligence was exposed when it emerged that Rashid Redouane, one of the London Bridge attackers, had lived in a flat in Dublin and worked in restaurants until he left for London in September 2015. On investigating Redouane's background, however, gardai later said they were satisfied that he was not radicalised while he was in Ireland.

The terrorist massacres in Manchester Arena and London Bridge, and the horror that unfolded in Barcelona last week, have placed Ireland under increasing pressure to gear up for a terrorist attack.

The Government has assured the public that the country is prepared. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has set up a new cabinet sub-committee to consider threats to national security, modelled on Cobra, the British government's crisis response committee.

The Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, has beefed up armed units and there is now a new Strategic Firearms Command Unit, which is responsible for directing armed Garda units, the ERU and ARU, to critical incidents.

But Garda representative associations, and the public, believe that Ireland is not ready. Garda associations - both the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and the Garda Representative Associations - have claimed that unarmed members have not been trained to deal with a terror threat, even though they would likely be on the frontline of any attack.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the attack in Barcelona, horrified citizens are questioning why the famous pedestrianised thoroughfare of Las Ramblas was not protected by bollards.

The issue was taken up in Dublin last Friday, when several city councillors demanded urgent action over the security on the streets of the capital. Dublin City Council confirmed that it is "risk assessing" pedestrian areas in the city centre.

Meanwhile the Irish family which was caught up in last Thursday's terror attack in Barcelona were visited in hospital by Spain's King and Queen yesterday.

King Felipe and Queen Letizia visited the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona to meet the survivors. The royal couple spoke to Norman Potot and his wife Pederlita plus their children Nailah and Nathaniel in their hospital beds where they are still being treated for their injuries.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News