Ireland and the rest of Europe is facing a rising threat from the return of radicalised fighters from Syria and North Africa, according to a former top Irish garda heading the EU police agency in the US.
Patrick Byrne, formerly one of the Garda’s most senior detectives, said that Europol’s priority was to prevent a repeat of terrorist atrocities such as the Boston bombing and attacks in London.
Mr Byrne revealed that Europol is assisting the US authorities in their investigations into the Boston bombing last April, particularly in relation to the movements of the suspects beforehand.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the Dublin man said Europe also faced an extremely worrying threat from the notorious Mexican drug cartels, who were trying to establish a physical presence in Europe.
The cartels — known the world over for their barbarism and mass murder of civilians — are attempting to forge alliances with European syndicates, including the Italian mafia.
On the terrorist threat, Mr Byrne said Ireland cannot think it is “immune” to an attack, given the indiscriminate nature of these acts, our close connection with the US and our geographical proximity to Britain. He said his office in Washington DC worked very closely with American agencies in identifying “pointers” or “markers” that would help pinpoint radicalised individuals before they commit a terrorist atrocity.
Following a meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council last month, during Ireland’s presidency, Justice Minister Alan Shatter highlighted the risks posed by foreign fighters returning from conflict zones. He said some of them may pose a threat by radicalising and recruiting others.
Some reports have estimated that up to 20 men from Ireland may have gone to fight in Syria and that four have been killed in fighting there, including a 16-year-old student, Shamseddin Gaidan from Navan, Co Meath.
“As announced at the recent EU ministerial meeting in Dublin, terrorism remains a major concern especially the potential threats from radicalised fighters returning to the EU from conflict zones like Syria and the global challenge of countering potential homegrown violent extremism,” said Mr Byrne.
He said these men, many of whom are EU citizens, acquire increased technical knowledge in relation to the use of violence.
Europol’s Terrorism Situation Report 2012 identified that many of those travelling to Syria were joining radical Islamic brigades. “If they collaborate with religiously inspired groupings whose ideology is to attack the west, to attack the European Union, well clearly them coming back as EU citizens creates a bigger challenge for law enforcement.”
Mr Byrne called on community, political and religious leaders to ensure that young people “do not radicalise to violence”.
“We all have a responsibility to protect our communities from potential violent acts like the ones in Boston and London.”
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