Foreign terrorist fighters have travelled from Ireland to North Africa, the EU police agency says. In its terrorism report for 2019, Europol said Ireland is one of three EU countries where authorities have identified people leaving to fight in the region, including in war-torn Libya.
The agency said the number of European foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) travelling, or attempting to travel to Syria or Iraq in 2018 is very low, linked to the military defeat of Islamic State (IS) there. However, it said that jihadists unable to reach those countries may have been directed to IS branches or affiliates in other countries.
While the numbers are small, people have travelled to places such as the Ukraine and the Philippines. Some countries have documented travel elsewhere.
“Ireland, Italy, and the UK observed that a number of FTFs travelled to Libya/North Africa,” said the report.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and branches of IS are strong in Libya, as well as neighbouring countries of Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt.
The Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2019 said there is also a “high risk” that aspirant travellers, unable to join IS, become frustrated and turn their focus to conducting attacks in their home countries.
The threat level in Ireland remains at moderate, meaning that while an attack is possible, it is not considered likely. The Europol report said the number of jihadists returning to Europe remains very low, with hundreds of European citizens in detention in Iraq and Syria.
Irish citizen Lisa Smith and her two-year-old daughter are being held in the Al Hawl camp in Syria. Ms Smith, who has served in the Irish Air Corps, told media she wants to return home with her child.
Naturalised Irish citizen Alexandr Berkmirzaev, a native of Belarus, is being held in a camp in northern Syria. An estimated 30 Irish citizens went to Syria and Iraq to fight with various groups, and an estimated five of them have died, including one, Khalid Kelly, fighting for Islamic State.
The Europol report said all fatalities in Europe last year from terrorism were the result of jihadist attacks, with 13 lives being lost, with a further 46 people injured. There were 24 jihadist attacks (33 in 2017), including seven completed attacks (10 in 2017), one failed attack (12), and 16 foiled attacks (11).
Completed attacks typically involved firearms and knives, but three of the foiled attacks involved the attempted production and use of explosives and chemical/biological materials.
The bulk (83) of the 129 foiled, failed, and completed terror attacks in 2018 were linked to nationalist or separatist groups, 60 of them in the UK. The report said dissident republican groups continue to pose a “significant threat” in the North, with access to firearms and explosives, with one attack on police in the year.
The report said that while there was only one attack linked to right-wing terrorism in 2018, there has been a significant rise in arrests linked to such groups — increasing from 12 in 2016, to 20 in 2017, and to 44 in 2018. The arrests were in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.