Garda concern at return of families from Syria

Garda security chiefs are concerned at the return to Ireland of families from war-torn Syria and Iraq and the “challenge” this will pose to policing, welfare and educational services.

The head of the Garda security service said the children of these families, particularly young males, may have witnessed “some of the most appalling crimes known to man”.

Speaking to media at an major Interpol conference in Dublin yesterday, Assistant Commissioner of Security and Intelligence, Michael O’Sullivan, said:

  • Some of the 30 or so Irish citizens who have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq may still be there, while others were deceased or missing, while none had yet come home;
  • Lone wolf attacks were the “greatest concern” for all European police and security services, including here;
  • He remained concerned at the preachings of the likes of Usayd al-Adani, who in 2014 urged supporters to attack the West “with a stone, with a car, with a knife”;
  • His section was working with the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure in the UK, part of the security service MI5, for advice here;
  • A “small number” of IS sympathisers here are being monitored;
  • That in two incidents here armed units responded within four to five minutes, in one case disarming a man with an apparent firearm on the Dart and, in another, disarming an axe-wielding man near O’Connell Bridge.

Mr O’Sullivan said there were an estimated 2,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq and there was a concern internationally where they may go next.

At the moment, there isn’t evidence that they are returning to Europe, including Ireland,” he said.

He said a small number of Irish people are still alive in Syria and Iraq, that “quite a number are deceased” and that some are missing.

He said those who are alive could go to other theatres of war, such as in the Philippines or Africa.

“Of concern to us certainly would be families returning and that is a concern for a lot of jurisdictions. These may have been families not involved directly in the war but whose children, particularly young males, may have witnessed some of the most appalling crimes known to man.

“They will return and they will become a challenge for a multi-agency effort — not just An Garda Síochána but other agencies as well. If and when they return, how they are managed from a welfare, education [point of view], so that is probably more of a concern at the moment than returning fighters.”

He said lone wolf attacks were “probably the greatest concern” for all police and security services throughout Europe, adding: “It is a concern for us”.

He said the Muslim community here was “very law-abiding” and there was a lot of work going on through Garda ethnic liaison officers and community gardai.

Based on exercises and two actual incidents, he said he was “quite happy” with the response time (between three and five minutes) of armed units.

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