Only so much can be done to tackle terror

In relation to Ireland, the threat level from international terrorism is constantly under review and that remains the case after the Manchester bombing, writes Cormac O’Keeffe.

People sit under a billboard in Manchester yesterday after a suicide attack. Picture: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

SECURITY at public events and busy locations is, again, a key issue that will be examined by Garda security chiefs after the Manchester bombing.

There are now suggestions that checks should be conducted on the bodies, and not just the bags, of people attending events such as concerts or matches.

Several senior sources told the Irish Examiner that measures such as asking people to open their jackets to check for the likes of suicide belts or concealed knives will have to be considered — although one source said it is not yet known how the bomber got into the Manchester Arena.

This is but one of the issues that will feature in a review by Garda security officers following the murder of more than 20 people, including children, with a further 59 people receiving injuries. One of those killed was an eight-year-old girl.

The attacker detonated the device at an exit after the Ariana Grande concert had ended and the crowd was leaving.

The so-called Islamic State subsequently claimed, via an official IS outlet, that it directed the attack, which British police and security services are examining. Previous claims have been made by IS following attacks, though direct connections have not been made in all such cases.

Greater Manchester Police have established the man’s identity and are trying to establish if he was part of a wider network or if he was a so-called lone wolf. Arrests were being conducted yesterday.

Garda officers met early yesterday with the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan who then briefed Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

In her statement, Ms Fitzgerald condemned the “savage and shocking attack”. She said there is close liaison between gardaí and British police about the attack.

“While there has been no change to the security assessment here and no specific information about a threat to us, last night’s attack is a reminder that no one can be considered immune from those whose hatred of our values drives such evil acts,” the Tánaiste said.

She said gardaí, and the Irish Defence Forces, will take all necessary measures to “counteract such deadly threats”.

In its statement, the Garda Síochána said it is providing assistance to Greater Manchester Police and will “share and assess” any relevant intelligence.

The statement moved to reassure people that Ireland is “a safe and secure environment”.

It said: “While there is no specific information in relation to any threat to Ireland from international terrorism, An Garda Síochána does not consider that Ireland is immune from this threat. The threat level in this jurisdiction remains unchanged — where an attack is possible but not likely.”

It said the threat level is constantly under review and that remains the case after the Manchester bombing.

“All appropriate measures will be taken commensurate with the prevailing threat environment,” it said. “We would ask the public to remain vigilant and to immediately report any suspicious activity.”

The threat level from international terrorism is set at moderate in Ireland, the second of five stages.

Sources have told the Irish Examiner that levels are determined as a result of serious and constant assessment.

“We don’t just pick it out of the hat,” said one source. “We take it seriously and it’s based on all the information and intelligence at our disposal.”

The source added: “People need to remember we are not Britain. We are in a different place. But we are not complacent.”

The Garda’s Security and Intelligence Section is the force’s intelligence gathering arm and liaises with international agencies. It also directs relevant units here tasked with this area, including Counter-Terrorism International and the National Surveillance Unit.

Sources stress there is a small number of people who are being monitored here, although this doesn’t necessarily mean constant active surveillance, which is hugely resource-intensive.

There have been a number of operations in recent years in Ireland, including one targeting a major IS recruiter here, and two unconnected operations in recent weeks targeting people involved in money laundering operations aimed at financing IS.

“These operations are factored into our threat assessment, but the two recent incidents are not aimed at here,” said a source. “If there was any intelligence of an attack being planned for here that would change it.”

But he did say the issue of security at public events and concerts could feature in the review.

“That issue [checking inside jackets] may well be in the review. That’s something that obviously we will look at. We will examine that issue and discuss with local people involved in security.”

A separate high-level source agreed: “We have looked at the trucks issue and crowds and events, but it’s getting to the situation where we need to ask people to open their jackets. We are not doing that at the moment, it’s just bags. Either that or have those airport walk-through scanners.”

But a senior source said that while this issue will be examined, security measures have to be proportionate to the risk: “Our security actions have to be commensurate with the threat level.”

And all sources agree that only so much can be done, short of turning society into a police state.

“We are well prepared if anything does happen. But someone could drive down Grafton Street or Henry Street or if they had a gun open fire in a shopping centre. It’s impossible to prevent that. You depend on the intelligence and we have good intelligence.”

Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, Imam of the Blanchardstown mosque, said that “as Muslims, we must clean our own backyard by identifying individuals that support Isis mentality”.

He said there is an obligation to “speak out against extremists and support initiatives that aim to eliminate extremism”.

But he added: “Terrorism in Islamic costume is not Islamic terrorism.”

Gardaí emphasised that they have a great relationship with the Muslim community.

“We have an excellent relationship with the Muslim community here,” said a source. “They don’t want these people here and they come to us if they have concerns about someone. That’s not to say that some young fella that no one knows anything about, who’s not on our radar, who’s radicalised online very quickly, does something stupid. That’s why you can never say there isn’t any threat.”

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