Detectives say that an examination of phone and online communications of the Egyptian teenager arrested in relation to the stabbing spree in Dundalk, Co Louth, which left one man dead, would be critical in establishing the motive for the attack.
The 18-year-old had two mobile phones and gardaí are beginning the process of examining them to establish if they contain any online or text communications which might give an insight into his state of mind or what preceded his rampage.
Officers will also try and establish with whom he was in contact in recent days and weeks.
“The phones would be critical, to see who he might have been in contact with and who his associates are. Also his online activity would be important,” said a source.
Louth divisional officer Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan said the three attacks yesterday morning appeared to have been “random and unprovoked”.
He said they had not established a motive, but said that a terror attack was “a line of inquiry”. He said he would not comment on the suspect’s state or mind.
Specialist units, including Counter Terrorism International, part of the Special Detective Unit, are assisting gardaí in Dundalk.
Security sources told the Irish Examiner that if international terrorism is established as a motive it would represent the first jihadist attack in Ireland.
It could have an impact on our international terrorism threat level, which is currently at moderate (the second of five levels), which means an attack is possible but not likely.
However, sources said the attack may not be linked to or inspired by international terrorism and that the youth might have acted because of other reasons, such as possible personal or psychiatric issues.
One source said that the man was “highly agitated” in Dundalk Garda Station following his arrest and that officers were unsure as to whether or not they would be able to interview him.
It is understood they waited for a doctor to pass the suspect as suitable for interview.
“We have to keep an open mind and there’s a bit to go yet on this. But establishing if there is a terrorist motive and if the person was acting on his own will be key,” said a separate source.
He added: “If it is proven it is terror-related, it is the first attack linked to international terrorism here.
“We have been keeping our fingers crossed it wouldn’t happen here, which is the big fear.”
The source said: “Until now, all the investigations and intelligence has been in relation to documentation or financing for terrorist groups abroad or recruitment to fight abroad, not attacks here.”
He said there was the so-called Jihad Jane plot, involving Irish and US conspirators, which aimed to murder cartoonist Lars Vilks in Sweden in 2010.
Gardaí yesterday searched a dilapidated house they suspect the Egyptian teen was using, near where he attacked the Japanese national on Avenue Road, to see if they can uncover any evidence that might assist them in their inquiries.
Chief Supt Mangan said there was a “garda interaction” with the suspect for the first time on New Year’s Day.
He said this was in relation to his immigration ‘status’ and that there was nothing to indicate he was going to be involved in any criminality.
He said their information was that the youth had either applied for asylum or was about to do so.
Meanwhile, a shop assistant yesterday recounted how the suspect walked into his store at Seapoint.
“The man came in here, looked around and walked out. He was here for no more than 10 seconds.”
When the assistant looked out the window he saw an injured man holding his head and the other man holding what appeared to be a large stick.
“I think he hit the chap holding his head,” the assistant said.
The injured man, who is 23 and from just outside Dundalk, went for assistance at a nearby pharmacy, Smyth’s Life Pharmacy.
It’s owner Anne McEntegart said: “The wound was pumping, there was a lot of blood.” She and her staff looked after the man and they rang the gardaí as well as an ambulance.
The man is understood to have just got off a bus at Seatown when he was struck with what he thought was an iron bar or something similar.
“It was totally random. He came in here afterward asking for help,” said Ms McEntegart.
Gardaí were yesterday in the process of contacting the family of the Japanese man.
“It’s very, very hard for the family to have someone working over here and get murdered in a foreign country,” said Chief Supt Mangan.
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