HE murder of three Irish citizens at a tourist resort in north Africa has brought Islamic terrorism much closer to home.
Until now we have looked on in shock, and revulsion, at terror attacks targeting other Europeans, either across the Middle East and North Africa, or on European soil. However, with the slaughter on the beaches of Tunisia of Lorna Carty, and Laurence and Martina Hayes, this is a landmark moment for this country.
That is not to deflect from the harrowing personal tragedy, and injustice, for the families of Ms Carty, including her husband and two children, and Mr and Mrs Hayes, including their daughter.
They were ordinary Irish people on a summer holiday, who were just hours away from flying home, when Seifeddine Rezgui took to Marhaba beach armed with an assault rifle and grenades and massacre of the innocent on his mind. At the end of it, 38 people lay dead at Sousse.
Martina’s brother Billy Kelly told the media: “We feel bitter. Irish people have nothing to do with these terrorists. The people who did this are evil rats.”
He said the couple’s daughter, Sinead, had lost two parents in an instant: “The sadness is terrible. It’s a nightmare.”
Ireland has now been dragged into a terrible reality, one that much of Europe — Spain, Britain, and France among them — has had to live with for more than a decade. This day week marks the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London, which killed 52 people. Some 30 of the victims at Sousse were British.
France received a grisly reminder of the constant threat it faced just hours before the killings in Tunisia when Yassine Salhi, a man known to French security services, decapitated his boss at an office in Lyon. It came six months after the slaughter in Paris of 12 people at the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo and five more people subsequently.
The attacks in Tunisia and France came on the same day of a bomb attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait, killing 27 people. While that attack is linked to IS, the ones in Tunisia and France appear to be the work of small cells or lone wolves, operating independently, but inspired by radical Islam or Isis.
“No ‘non-believer’ can feel safe,” Haydar Zaki of the Quilliam Foundation, a British terrorism think-tank, told the London Independent.
“For Islamic extremists, their ideology is wholly fixated within a religious framework in which everything has a symbolic value.
“Jihadist organisations such as Isis and al Qaeda are constantly disseminating material that encourages attacks by self-starters. Under their framework no targets are too small, and no attacks are irrational: all are believed to demonstrate faith to a higher power.”
What has deepened the threat in recent years has been the return of trained, experienced and indoctrinated EU citizens who have fought with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. EU officials estimate as many as 5,000 have traveled there and up to 30% have returned.
This threat has been highlighted by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who estimates around 40 Irish people have gone to fight in the region. Garda sources say these are just those people they know about.
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has told the Irish Examiner she was concerned about “lone wolves” — people who are self-radicalised — and “trigger events” where something happens abroad, that nobody has any control over, which can “spark off a reaction”.
Ms Fitzgerald has called this issue “the greatest security threat” facing the EU today. Figures within the Muslim leadership here are at the forefront in countering radicalisation.
“My heart bleeds for all those who have lost loved ones in Kuwait, Tunisia and France,” said Shaykh Al-Qadri, imam at the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in west Dublin.
“Terrorism should be seen as terrorism no matter who carries it out — regardless of religion, colour or race. All victims of terrorism are the same. Terrorism is terrorism no matter who carries it out.”
He said it was the “responsibility of every Muslim leader and scholar” to condemn the attacks.
He has set up a website, jihad.info, to try and counter the threat from online radicalisation.