Arrests of jihadi terror suspects in Ireland more than tripled in 2020

Majority of 18 arrests related to suspected financing of terrorism

A number of arrests relating to dissident republicanism were also made. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

A number of arrests relating to dissident republicanism were also made. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins


Eighteen people were arrested in Ireland last year on suspicion of involvement in Islamist terrorism.

Seventeen of the arrests related to the suspected financing of terrorist activities outside Europe.

There are ongoing Garda investigations into lone individual suspects and groups of people. These include male and female suspects who are Irish, foreign or hold dual nationalities.

These groups used legal methods such as collections and donations to generate funds as well as illegal methods. This money was then sent through money-transfer businesses to countries such as Turkey and Afghanistan.

At a time when arrests of jihadi terrorists declined across the Europe by more than 41 per cent (from 436 in 2019 to 254 last year), arrests in Ireland increased from five to 18. There were no arrests of jihadi terrorism suspects in the State in 2018. It is not known how many, if any, of the suspects arrested last year have been charged with an offence.

The previously unpublished figures are contained in the latest European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend report released by Europol.

The Garda also told Europol that a “small number” of “foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs)”, who have returned from fighting either with or against Islamic State, are present in Ireland.

“In addition, at the time of writing, one FTF in Syria, who might return to Ireland, remained under investigation,” the report states.

Investigations into jihadi terrorists are typically carried out by the “Counter-Terrorism International” section of the Special Detective Unit (SDU), which operates in considerable secrecy. None of the jihadi arrests mentioned in the latest report had previously been publicised by the Garda.

Dissident republicans

There were an additional six arrests made in Ireland for “ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism”. It is understood these all related to suspected members of dissident republican (DR) groups.

“The majority of DR support originates in Ireland and Northern Ireland, although it is believed that some material support is also provided by persons outside of these jurisdictions predominantly related to financing and/or sourcing weaponry,” the report states.

The report says Brexit is not a major factor in the activity of these groups but that “any DR incidents garner more international media attention because of the Irish border issue, which in turn could be exploited for recruitment purposes.”

The terrorism report states that the connection between DR groups to organised crime is “well established”.

“Traditionally, fundraising through extortion, weapons trafficking and excise fraud (including cigarettes, alcohol and fuel) has brought these groups into contact with organised criminals.”

The UK reported 79 terrorism-related arrests in Northern Ireland last year in addition to 56 over “security-related incidents”. These included 39 shootings and 17 bombings.

It says that in Northern Ireland “DRs as well as other republican, loyalist and organised criminal groups continued to conduct paramilitary-style attacks (PSAs) and intimidation directed at the wider community in 2020”.

“Paramilitaries sought to exert control in communities using extreme violence and intimidation, and their activities ranged from minor to serious criminality, including drug dealing, extortion, fuel laundering, and murder,” it says. “Reported assaults outnumbered shootings, but the level of violence involved in such incidents was extreme.”

The report states that Ireland made no arrests of left- or right-wing terrorism suspects last year.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not drastically alter “core terrorist modi operandi” in Europe, it says, but restrictions on travel and physical meetings “probably led to increased online consumption of terrorist and extremist content and networking”.