Gardaí arrest fighters heading for Syria

Garda security units have conducted searches and arrests to prevent people travelling to Syria or Iraq as the country is described as being “not immune” from a jihadist attack.

In its annual report for 2016, An Garda Síochána said its community programmes in minority communities were reducing “the opportunities for radicalisation”.

However, a leading imam in Ireland, Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, disagreed, saying that while he welcomed Garda community relations efforts, “it was not enough” and that a more structured anti-radicalisation programme was needed.

The Garda annual report highlights a “significant increase in anti-terrorism operations” by the Special Detective Unit during 2015 and 2016, particularly targeting dissident republican groups.

It said this had resulted in an “unprecedented” number of suspects arrested and charged before the Special Criminal Court, with 17 such arrests and 12 charges being brought in 2016.

This included investigations regarding the seizure of three AK47-type assault rifles linked to the Regency Hotel attack in February 2016 and the seizure of 57kg of homemade explosives in Dublin in April 2016.

The report also said 110 local drug dealers were investigated, with 75 charged in 2016, as a result of undercover work by a Garda covert unit.

In its section on National Security and Intelligence, the report said that while there was no specific information of a threat from international terrorism, An Garda Síochána “does not consider that Ireland is immune from this threat”.

It said the threat level was unchanged — that “an attack is possible but not likely”.

It said the threat was under constant review, which it is again, following a succession of attacks in Europe.

Part of the review is examining the use of a truck to target people in high-density areas, similar to the August 17 Barcelona attack and three similar attacks on London since March.

The report said that, during 2016, the number of people travelling to, or looking to travel to, Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State (IS) and other groups “fell dramatically” and that the “concern has now shifted from those travelling to those who may be looking to return to European states”.

It said the “main security concerns” were the potential risk posed by returning foreign fighters, the radicalisation potential in conflict zones and from online/social media and the potential of attacks on mainland Europe as IS loses territory.

The report said Counter Terrorism International, a section within the Special Detective Unit, was combatting this area.

“A number of searches and arrests were carried out by the unit,” it said. “These were connected to persons who wished to travel to conflict zones.”

This included an operation against “a facilitator in terrorism” who was deported following a High Court case.

The report said that the Garda Bureau of Community Diversity and Integration met regularly with minority communities, including young people, in order to gain their trust and confidence.

“Our experience is that this reduces the opportunities for radicalisation and also encourages reporting or racist/hate crime experienced by members of these communities,” it said.

Dr Al-Qadri said that while the Garda Racial and Intercultural Office “did good work” visiting mosques and meeting imams, “it was not enough” to tackle the threat of radicalisation.

“It is not sufficient to deal with radicalisation,” he said.

“Yes, it develops good relations with Imams and mosques but at the grassroots level with young people, it is not effective. We need more engagement, more interaction, more structured programmes, at all levels.”

He said the “perversion of Islam” played a role in justifying violence and that mosques and the Government needed to do more to provide counter narratives.


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