Arrests of alleged Islamist extremists show threat to Ireland is real

Investigation into suspects linked to Isis was Irish component of international operation

Members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit take part in  a  counterterrorism exercise with members of other European police agencies  at the ESB generating station in the Pigeon House, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins, Dublin.

Members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit take part in a counterterrorism exercise with members of other European police agencies at the ESB generating station in the Pigeon House, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins, Dublin.

 

The arrests of four suspects in operations targeting suspected Islamist extremists in Ireland have generated significant media coverage. But are two such operations, across three counties, in a matter of weeks out of the ordinary?

And exactly how concerned should we be?

Garda sources say there is no need for panic. However, they also point out the recent operations underline the need for continued vigilance.

One senior Garda source said the public could become complacent when media coverage around the possibility of international terrorist attacks on Irish soil was not followed by violence.

However, while the same source said such complacency was misplaced, there was “no need for hysteria”.

Another Garda said: “We have been monitoring these suspects for a long time and we have had arrests in this area before, this is not new for us.”

Of the two men – one from Algeria and another from Morocco – arrested on Monday, one has already been released without charge.

Gardaí believe the other suspect still being held is linked to a business in Trim, Co Meath. The company, investigating officers believe, has been used as a front to launder and move around relatively small sums of money destined for Islamic State in Syria.

Laptops and documents were seized in a number of raids in Dublin and Trim.

However, informed sources said it would only be when the seized data was analysed that a clear picture would emerge of the financial network of which the suspect was believed to be part.

Security forces

The arrests of the latest two suspects were the Irish component of a wider international policing operation. The British security forces, who are engaged in all-out war with Islamist extremism, are believed to have flagged with the Garda the activities in Ireland of at least two of the suspects here.

The Garda had already been monitoring them and the intelligence originating from the British added to the Irish inquiry.

While An Garda Síochána is the law enforcement agency that carries out arrests, they are aided greatly by G2 – the military intelligence section of the Defence Forces. In the area of international counterterrorism, the online activities of some of the suspects already arrested “would be something right up G2’s street, in terms of the skills they have”, said a security source.

Why do some suspected extremists chose to operate from Ireland?

One source said: “You see it even with the likes of Irish drug gangs; they operate from abroad. But the place where they trade is Ireland and they bank on the fact the Irish authorities won’t talk to their foreign counterparts as much or as closely as they should.”

However, defence analyst Declan Power, a former officer in the Defence Forces, said the British and Irish security and intelligence agencies were very close. As a result, any extremist looking to frustrate a British inquiry by locating one part of a money-laundering operation, for example, in Ireland, was misguided.

Closer relations

Nevertheless, he was concerned that more was not being done to develop connections with Islamic communities in Ireland. If the Garda had closer relations with those communities, Muslims with concerns about individuals they believed were at risk of radicalisation would feel more comfortable in coming forward to report those concerns.

Another security analyst and former Army officer Tom Clonan agreed there was a need to reach out to the growing Muslim community in Ireland. If nothing else, it would decrease the likelihood of a so-called lone wolf terrorist striking here.

“These people exist in our society in the same way that they do in places like France and Belgium, ” he said.

There was always the possibility that “Walter Mitty keyboard warrior types” were vulnerable to radicalisation. However, he added, the monitoring of suspects had already been in place for a decade and the latest arrests were the product of years of such experience.