Gardaí ‘need to track fighters returning from Syria and Iraq’
Gardaí need to track returning Irish-based fighters from Syria and Iraq, a former British ambassador to Dublin has said, adding that Ireland should not be “complacent” about the possibility of a terror attack.
Ivor Roberts, a board member of international lobby group Counter Extremism Project, backed calls by an Irish imam for a Government-led radicalisation strategy.
Mr Roberts said he shared the view of the EU’s security commissioner, Julian King, who said Ireland was vulnerable to what he termed “lowcost” terrorism, such as the use of a vehicle to kill people.
Having served as former head of counter terrorism at the British Foreign Office, he noted that a former member of al Qaeda said earlier this year that Ireland was a ‘soft touch’ for a terror attack as it did not have its own dedicated domestic intelligence service.
Mr Roberts, however, told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ radio that was “not his assessment” from his time in Dublin, where he regularly met with both the Garda commissioner and the PSNI chief constable. He said sources in Ireland had told him some 30 foreign fighters had travelled to Syria and were thought to be likely to return home. It has previously been reported up to five of these are known to have died.
Mr Roberts said that, as the IS hold in Syria continues to weaken, it will use the return of foreign fighters and other “sleepers” in Europe to carry out attacks.
“I don’t think anyone, whether they are in Britain or Spain or Ireland, can remain complacent about the risk,” he said.
He said gardaí should work closely with international counterparts to track the movements of returning fighters. He said he imagined gardaí were doing this.
Mr Roberts said it was “absolutely imperative” close co-operation between Ireland and Northern Ireland and Britain continues after Brexit.
He called on governments and the EU to “pressure” social media and encryption firms on the use of their services by jihadists.
“Tech companies only really respond when they are threatened with regulation or possibly a loss of advertising revenue,” he said.
Mr Roberts backed calls made by Shaykh Umar AlQadri for a radicalisation prevention strategy.
Shaykh Al-Qadri told the Irish Examiner yesterday that he disagreed with statements from An Garda Síochána that its community relations programme was reducing the opportunity for radicalisation.
He said while the programme was welcome and built up relations with imams it was not reaching the grassroots.
Shaykh Al-Qadri said a “steering committee” should be set up by the Government, comprising religious leaders, gardaí, and mental health and other experts “to establish a policy to prevent radicalisation”.
He called for regulation of mosques and imams, saying anyone can set one up and start preaching.