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Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 15°C
An Explosive Ordnance Expert practices defusing a chemical weapon.
# Terror response
From Qatar to the streets of Dublin: Irish bomb disposal teams develop terror attack response
We speak to the bomb disposal technicians working to develop a way to fight terror attacks.

IRISH BOMB DISPOSAL technicians are at the forefront of developing the response to potential large-scale terror attacks on Irish soil.

A team in the Curragh, along with other elements of the Irish Defence Forces, have developed a Defence Forces-wide response to so-called marauding terrorist groups.

These attacks are similar to the Paris, London or the Mumbai attacks in which gangs of terrorists move across a city with explosives and firearms.  

In a wide-ranging interview with The Journal two bomb disposal experts, a Captain and a Commandant, sat down to explain the approach. 

Such is Ireland’s level of expertise in the area that two members of the Defence Force’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team travelled to Qatar to test the preparedness of the local security forces there ahead of the recent Arab Cup, and of course the World Cup next year.

We spoke to a captain and commandant who travelled to the Middle Eastern country and along with colleagues from 13 countries, including Italy, Turkey, Portugal, Kuwait and France, took part in exercises.

The officers, who cannot be named for security reasons, said the trip was not just an opportunity to assess the readiness of Qatar but also a chance to meet colleagues and exchange ideas.

The Irish soldiers delivered a lengthy briefing to the multinational Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams on their expertise regarding CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) Explosive and marauding terrorists.

The officers said the relationship between Ireland and the various countries had already been established as members of their armed services, including some from Qatar, had attended a specialist course hosted in the Curragh.

“The Ordnance Corps run a training course here in Ireland in which a number of foreign militaries take part,” the captain said.

“It is the Commander’s Counter Marauding Terrorist course which is designed to deal with an attack moving through a public or urban area. 

“The course looks at how to command various assets and people to counter that and deal with it.

“Members of the Qatari security forces did attend that course and, I think, from their experience here they have a decent regard for what we were doing.”

image_6483441 Irish Defence Forces A member of the team in Qatar. Irish Defence Forces

The captain explained that the Irish Army’s Ordnance Corps developed the course as part of a broader strategy to deal with a potential terror attack in Ireland similar to that suffered in France and Belgium.

“As we’ve seen in terrorist attacks in Europe, we think about the Bataclan for instance, this kind of attack is a combination, attackers with assault rifles and Improvised Explosive Devices or explosives or some type of a combination like that.

“This course looks at complex terrorist attack that are evolving, both in a temporal sense and in a multi-dimensional space, meaning it is is moving and it changes that time.

“What would have happened before is we would have had a location that could be assaulted or you have an IED but now they are more dynamic and we’re looking at terrorist attacks that change over the course of the incident, and also changes in the space in which we would operate.”

The team sat down with their colleagues in a round table discussion in Qatar about how to deal with various incidents during the World Cup. This included attacks such as letter bombs, suicide bombers, car bombs and IEDs connected to drones.

The one finding for the Irish EOD experts was that despite a language barrier they discovered that the “language of EOD crosses all borders”.

51145282014_501ed2a635_o Irish Defence Forces Members of the CBRN and EOD team on an exercise at a supermarket distribution centre. Irish Defence Forces

The commandant said that the teams all dealt with incidents in a similar manner but added that depending on the environment, for instance in Turkey, the units must initially approach the threats differently. 

The practical side of the exercise saw Irish troops paired with Qatari EOD teams and they then worked through various incidents. 

One key aspect in which the Irish EOD experts are leading the way is in relation to terror attacks involving chemical or biological agents.

They have developed a national response, which involves multiple units of the military as well as gardaí, ambulance and other services to deal with such an incident. 

“The Defence Forces are unusual when compared to other countries in that the EOD and chemical biological role is sometimes separate – here we have it together in a single, structured response,” he said. 

“From an EOD perspective you could have an IED, which would have an explosive component, maybe some additions to it such as shotgun pellets or fragmentation, that’s one thing.

“But if a perpetrator decides to attach either biological, chemical or radiological agents (CBRN) to that, the situation becomes a lot more difficult and a lot more serious.

“So in a normal EOD situation a coordinated evacuation is in reality rather small but when we consider CBRN payloads, we end looking at massive coordinated evacuations.

For example if you had a device on O’Connell Street, with a prevailing wind going from east to west, you have to evacuate most of the city. So the situation is a lot more dangerous. There’s a lot more at play.

0536 Bomb scare Leah Farrell An EOD technician working on a call out in Dublin. Leah Farrell

The Defence Forces have developed the CBRN and EOD Response Team which will be immediately deployed if such a terror attack happens anywhere in Ireland. 

The captain said that the initiative is all about confronting the risk of a major chemical attack with teams specially trained and equipped.

He said that the Qataris and other nations listened to the Irish model – where there is a developed command and control with a self sufficiency that enables the Defence Forces to handle all eventualities. 

The Captain explained that a scenario such as a marauding terror attack would involve multiple units responding making the management of such an incident hugely dynamic and complex. 

“We realise that we can’t rely on other agencies to do jobs we should do ourselves such as decontaminating people and other tasks which traditionally would be done by other services,” he explained. 

The team was fully deployed earlier this year for an exercise at a major distribution centre in which they demonstrated and proved that the model works.

The captain said that a number of countries are looking at the Irish model which involves not just the EOD element in the Ordnance Corps but also trained infantry battalion troops.

The captain said that the model is “unique” and that they have briefed other countries on how they manage and deploy the various components of the response. He said this has received a warm response from countries with much bigger and better financed militaries.

“We  have briefed other countries in how we manage this capability, particularly to militaries which would have a lot more capacity in terms of finance but they don’t have the same capacity in terms of response. 

“Another thing that’s kind of quite unique is we have a kind of a tiered response. It’s not necessary in all scenarios to deploy the entire team,” he added. 

The Irish Defence Forces have developed a lot of the response capability in light of the events in Salisbury. 

Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by Russia with the nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, 2018.

military-personnel-starting-on-the-decontamination-of-areas-salisbury-linked-to-the-poisoning-of-an-ex-russian-spy-sergei-skripal-aged-66-and-his-da Alamy Stock Photo The Irish Army have taken lessons from the Salisbury poisoning and applied them to their procedures. Alamy Stock Photo

A number of other people were contaminated including a police officer and a woman, Dawn Sturgess, 44, who died when she believed a bottle used in the attack was perfume.

She unknowingly sprayed the bottle, she received as a gift from a pal.  

The commandant said the EOD team and the wider Defence Forces response was about “developing best practice” and looking at incidents such as that in Salisbury.

“We would look at those incidents, analyse those within the Irish context and we would apply those lessons learned and we would apply them from a top down approach,” he said. 

One key development from the Salisbury attack was around the process of decontamination – it overnight changed that critical life saving measure.  

The captain said that the trip to Qatar was a confirmation that the model is working well and it was an opportunity to share ideas on how to approach such complex attacks. 

“It was very much a success in terms of an exercise even for ourselves. Anytime you’re getting a chance to talk to other people who are working in this field, you always pick up bits and pieces of information.

“So there’s definitely kind of mutual learning going on there. I would say overall, I’d say very positive results,” he said.