CAB to lead anti-terrorism efforts here

 

The Garda Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) will be on the front line in the State's efforts to combat the type of international terrorism that led to the attacks in New York and Washington.

President Bush's edict of last week indicated that the primary anti-terrorist measure to be used against the group or groups who attacked the World Trade Centre and Washington would involve identification and seizure of their assets.

The FBI, CIA, DEA and other law enforcement agencies including US Marshals have already set up sections primarily to track down and seize assets of Al Qaeda, the group led by Osama bin Laden.

The search will bring the US authorities to Dublin and will involve co-operation with and assistance from the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), senior Garda sources have indicated.

CAB will also be working in co-operation with their counterparts in the newly formed Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) which is based on the same Proceeds of Crime Act and Criminal Assets Bureau Act enacted in 1996 after the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin. British police officers involved in the new agency refer to their legislation as "Murphy's Law" because it is based on the Irish legislative version.

Despite the concerns expressed over the Republic's possible military or civil defence response to the threat of international terrorism, it is most likely that two small units within the Garda S∅ochβna will have the most direct involvement in the new "war", according to senior sources.

Initially, a section of the Garda Special Detective Unit (SDU), historically known as the Special Branch, is involved in identifying members of international terrorist groups who have established bases here. Among the groups that have set up camp here in the past decade is Al Qaeda, the group controlled by Osama bin Laden.

The Special Branch unit, known within the force as the "Red Squad" was increased in size and set about identifying suspects and groups here who might have had involvement in Al Qaeda or its associates in terrorist groups from Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The "Red Squad", so named because in the last century its main job was to monitor the activities of pro-communist elements, had fallen into near inactivity in recent years. There was no apparent impetus to closely observe the activities of extreme Islamic groups who posed no threat to the internal security of the Republic.

Only the Army's Intelligence Section, known as G3, kept up a watch on the extreme Arab groups here. Defence Force observers serve with the United Nations in several countries, including Afghanistan, where the extremist groups pose a threat. Army Intelligence is interested in such groups which could pose a threat to both internal security in this State and to its soldiers while serving abroad. Army Intelligence has maintained a small unit specialising in Arab terrorism. At the top of its list of interest in groups based here was bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

CAB already has well-established links with the US law enforcement authorities. Officers from CAB are already preparing to move against the terrorist groups involved in the US attacks and which have links here.

The head of CAB, Chief Supt Felix McKenna, said this week that his officers would provide whatever assistance they could to the US authorities.

Chief Supt McKenna said that while CAB's powers were most commonly used against organised criminals, its legislative powers could and were being directed against terrorist groups. It is expected that US law enforcement agencies will shortly be in contact with the Garda seeking the assistance of CAB.

Army Intelligence, which has been co-operating closely with the Garda, long ago identified a money-laundering operation associated with Al Qaeda. The group used a charity, Mercy International Relief Agency (MIRA), to channel funds through Irish banks. MIRA was registered as a charity with the company's office here in 1992. Some of the names on the registration papers are believed to belong to genuine figures in the Arab Muslim community, but others are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda.

MIRA had links to Kenya and Somalia where Al Qaeda is believed to have a presence in the capital, Mogadishu. An Arab man involved with MIRA in Kenya was found to be involved in movements of money before the 1998 bomb attack on the US embassy in Nairobi.

MIRA was not one of the groups named in the list issued by the US Government earlier this week of suspected fronts and money-laundering operations. It is possible that once MIRA was identified in a US court two years ago as being connected to Al Qaeda, it was closed down.

The Garda has begun assembling information about some figures associated with MIRA and Al Qaeda and who lived in the Republic. This information will form the basis of the CAB investigations. CAB will be assisted by the forensic accounting skills of the Garda National Bureau of Fraud Investigation's anti-money-laundering unit.

According to senior sources, CAB will use its own legislative powers to seize any documents or assets relating to Arab terrorist groups. It may also use the similar seizure and confiscation legislation in the Offences Against the State Act.

These anti-terrorist asset confiscation laws were introduced by Government in the aftermath of the "Real IRA" killing of 31 people including two near-term babies in Omagh on August 15th, 1998.

So far, CAB has used its powers against several figures it suspects of involvement in the "Real IRA" and Continuity IRA. Last week it also seized a building and distilling equipment being used by the Provisional IRA to make vodka in Co Monaghan. In a co-ordinated operation the RUC seized the bottling plant across the Border in Co Armagh.

According to senior sources close to CAB it is most likely it will seek Mareva injunctions to freeze any assets it suspects of belonging to Arab terrorist groups. These apply to people who are not in the jurisdiction of the State but have assets here.

The State also passed anti-genocide laws earlier this year and these could provide legal support for any action taken by CAB. If individuals are sought by the US authorities, this State has extradition arrangements in place to do so.

CAB, which was set up under the leadership of Chief Supt Fachtna Murphy, now Assistant Commissioner, uses a "multi-agency" approach to many of its investigations. Apart from seizing money and assets it can issue tax demands and seek repayment of fraudulent social welfare claims. In the past five years it has seized more than £20 million in assets and cash; issued tax demands for £13 million; and made social welfare savings estimated at £1million.