Irish ex-radical says 150 extremists operating here

Irish ex-radical says 150 extremists operating here
Aaliyah at the press conference held at the Al Mustafa Islamic Cultural Centre in Blanchardstown, Dublin. Picture: Dave Meeh

By Joyce Fegan

An Irishwoman who converted to Islam and became radicalised in Britain claims there are 150 extremists operating in Ireland.

Aaliyah, 26, whose name was Marcella before she converted to Islam aged 18, associated with the group of London attacker Khuram Butt and hate preacher Anjem Choudary in Britain.

Choudary is the British Islamist social and political activist convicted of inviting support for a proscribed organisation, Islamic State of Iraq. He was sentenced to five years and six months in prison in 2016.

She was engaged to one of their associates for eight months and claims that not only did London terrorist Rachid Redouane spend time in Ireland but so too did Butt. The extremists operated from a house in Santry, she alleges, as well as properties in Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary, as rent is “cheaper” there.

She said the extremists she associated with would have several “cheap little phones”, travel by air from the UK to Belfast to access the Republic of Ireland, and set up bogus immigration offices here.

Aaliyah, who has now been deradicalised, ceased contact with these extremists in September 2016.

She said that growing up “between homes” in Ireland left her confused.

“Growing up I was really confused,” she said. “I looked to Islam after everything that happened with September 11 [2001 terror attacks]. I was easily brainwashed to think that’s the way Islam is.”

She said she met Butt and Choudary in London when they were speaking about fundamentalism. She was introduced to them by a young woman.

“I was in a relationship with one of Choudary’s friends,” she said.

Aaliyah said they mainly spoke about planned activities in their own language but knows the men “have a lot of friends living in Ireland currently”.

“There are definitely more than 150 [extremists living in Ireland], easily,” she said.

“They own properties in some places. I know a lot of them came here to apply for visas and stuff like that.”

After being abused by her partner, Aaliyah decided to leave Britain.

“The person I was in a relationship with attacked me when I was in London and I came back to Ireland just to get away from all that,” she said.

Aaliyah then approached a Dublin-based imam in the wake of the Manchester attacks and he arranged for her to speak publicly to highlight the threat of radicalisation here.

She attended a project with a London-based imam and his wife who supported and deradicalised her.

Aaliyah said she saw Butt in Dublin and Limerick “two or three times”.

“There are a lot of them living in Limerick City because the rent was a lot cheaper and in other Clare kind of areas, and in Tipperary,” she said. “So they were getting four- and five-bedroom houses but there was only one or two guys going there.”

Aaliyah said Butt was “visiting people” in Ireland and “giving talks”, while staying here for a few weeks “on and off”. He also stayed in a house “near the Santry area”.

Aaliyah said once she was married it was expected she would bear children for the purpose of engaging in terrorist attacks.

She said they laughed about the accessibility of Ireland.

“They used to laugh about Belfast, that you could fly from any airport in the United Kingdom to Belfast and they didn’t check any documents,” she said. “They just easily let them in.”

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said Irish authorities are liaising with international counterparts in relation to terrorist activities, but they do “not comment on statements made by a third party”.

This article appeared first in the Irish Examiner.

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