Tanaiste concerned about Irish citizens fighting with rebel forces in Syria

Up to 20 from Ireland estimated to have joined uprising against Assad

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore fears EU citizens who take up arms in Syria could return radicalised.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore fears EU citizens who take up arms in Syria could return radicalised.

Thu, Jun 27, 2013, 01:00

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has expressed concern about Irish citizens joining rebel forces in Syria, saying the flow of foreign fighters into the country is worsening the conflict there.

Up to 20 men from Ireland are estimated to have joined opposition forces in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in early 2011. Four, including one 16-year-old, have been killed fighting there.

UCD graduate
Last week, Hisham Habbash, a Libyan-born UCD graduate from Dublin, was shot dead during clashes between rebels and regime forces in northeastern Syria. Senior figures in Ireland’s Muslim community have tried to discourage others from going to fight.

The EU’s counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove told The Irish Times that several EU member states had become increasingly anxious about the numbers travelling from Europe to join rebel forces in Syria. He estimated the total to be between 600 and 800.

‘Making it worse’
“The fewer people from outside Syria who are fighting inside Syria the better,” Mr Gilmore said yesterday. “I think it is adding to the militarisation of the situation. It is complicating it and making it worse. We have to work to minimise it.”

The Tánaiste described as “relatively small” the numbers travelling from Ireland. He acknowledged concerns aired by Mr de Kerchove and others that EU citizens who take up arms in Syria could return radicalised and turn their focus on domestic targets. “Of course there will be an impact on European countries when some of those people come back. The issue of blowback is something that is down the line. The big problem is the numbers of people and the different groups from outside that are getting involved...”

In late April, Jordanian-born Alaa Ciymeh (26), who grew up in Dublin, was killed in Syria. In February Libyan-born Shamseddin Gaidan (16) from Navan was killed after he went to Syria without his parents’ permission. Egyptian-born Hudhaifa ElSayed (22), from Drogheda, was shot dead by regime forces in northern Syria in December. He had travelled to Syria as part of Liwa al-Umma, a rebel brigade founded by a Libyan-Irish man named Mehdi al-Harati.