30 Irish gone to Syria and Iraq wars

Syrian fighters.

Gardaí are aware of an estimated 30 Irish people who have gone to fight in war zones in Syria and Iraq, with the potential that some may pose a terrorist threat.

Senior members of the force are following the situation in France closely and are in contact with international police and intelligence agencies.

Concern has been growing among European governments regarding the radicalisation of EU citizens fighting with extremist Islamic armies in Syria and Iraq and the potential threat they pose on returning home. At a meeting last month of EU justice ministers, Frances Fitzgerald said criminal justice systems were “grappling with this complex issue”. She said the EU Council had discussed a wide range of preventative measures, focusing on “radicalisation and recruitment”.

Last June, Oireachtas Justice Committee chairman David Stanton said that, following a briefing with Ms Fitzgerald, he was told there were around 30 Irish fighters who have fought or were fighting in Iraq and Syria.

One garda source stressed that these were the people “we know about” and that there could be others they were unaware of, a problem facing many EU countries.

He said many of the Irish foreign fighters were not considered potential terrorists: “They go abroad for many reasons. We never just label them as jihadists or whatever because they go abroad to these places. They can go for medical reasons, welfare reasons or to assist in other ways.”

He said there were sections within the force which examined all the issues. He said gardaí have also concentrated on developing relationships with Muslim communities to “build up trust”.

Meanwhile, the Paris massacre has raised the issue of blasphemy, which is still a criminal offence in Ireland. Colum Kenny, a professor of journalism and media law at Dublin City University, said that under the Defamation Act 1999, the media can be prosecuted in the Circuit Court for publishing “any matter which is grossly abusive or insulting” in relation to matters “held sacred by any religion”.

On RTÉ radio, he said the prosecution must show it caused outrage among a “substantial number” of followers and that the outrage was intended. He said the media can make a defence of “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value”.

Dr Ali Selim, spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, said the publication of any image of the prophet Muhammad was blasphemous and therefore against the law. He said that if any Irish organisation published such a depiction he would “seek legal advice”.

He asked people to consider “what common good” was served by publishing such imagery, knowing it was offensive to Muslims.


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