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Isis views Ireland as 'somewhere to fundraise rather than attack'

Five people are serving prison sentences in Ireland for convictions related to Islamist extremism offences, according to a new report.

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File photo
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THE ISLAMIC STATE terrorist group views Ireland as somewhere to fundraise rather than target for a terrorist attack, according to a new report.

Researchers spoke to Irish security sources for the report, which explores jihadist extremism in 10 European countries.

There are an estimated five people serving prison sentences in Ireland for convictions related to Islamist extremism offences. Security sources said these convictions relate to funding terrorism, rather than active engagement in terrorist plots.

“This reinforces other evidence which suggests that ISIS (Islamic State) and its affiliates regard the Republic of Ireland as a target for criminal exploitation for fundraising, as opposed to a target for a terrorist attack,” the report notes. 

Ian Acheson, a security expert based in the UK, wrote the chapter about Ireland. He states there is “little evidence yet to indicate any direct cooperation between Irish-born or -based Islamist extremists and dissident extremists or OCGs (organised crime gangs)”.

However, he said “transnational terrorism” operating within the Republic of Ireland still “poses a real risk”.

“Given the convergence of interests and tactical opportunities and the strong historical cooperation of such groups in a domestic context, the possibility of that extending to jihadist groups cannot be discounted,” Acheson states. 

He notes that, according to interviews with senior Irish security sources, the Republic of Ireland “does not have wide powers to detain ISIS extremist suspects who return to Ireland from abroad”.

Unlike the UK, which has strong legal powers to stop and detain persons suspected of involvement in foreign terrorism at all entry points, the Gardaí prefer a more low-key consensual approach.

“This typically involves the police developing a long-term relationship with those suspected of engaging in violent extremism, but for whom proof to a criminal standard is lacking,” Acheson says. 

He adds that this process “mirrors the government’s approach to counter-extremism”, adding: “The importance of reintegration and community policing to support it are emphasised to prevent youth from becoming radicalised by ideologues.”

Radicalisation, and the importance of integration, in Ireland was explored in a series on TheJournal.ie last year. Muslim leaders here have consistently condemned terrorist attacks and work with the gardaí to prevent radicalisation

A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána previously told us that the organisation’s response to radicalisation is “based on our analysis of the level of threat from it”.

“The threat level is kept under constant review,” the spokesperson said, adding that gardaí are “constantly vigilant for any potential emerging threats” and “in constant contact with our policing and security partners across the world, but particularly in Europe, to share information and analysis”.

Lisa Smith case 

In the report, Acheson notes that there has been some criticism of gardaí and other agencies for their “low-key approach to dealing with the threat of radicalisation”, using the cases of Rachid Redouane and Lisa Smith as examples. 

Moroccan national Redouane, one of the 2017 London Bridge terrorist attackers, lived in Dublin for five years prior to the incident and had not been subject to any form of investigation or surveillance while there, the report notes.

“Another point of difference between Irish and British authorities’ approaches is illustrated by the different treatments of Lisa Smith, an Irish woman who converted to Islam, travelled to Syria in 2014 and is suspected of affiliation to ISIS; and of UK national Shamima Begum, who has been denied return to Britain and stripped of her citizenship by the Government.

“The Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has indicated that Smith will be allowed to return to Ireland, though she may be subject to criminal sanction,” Acheson writes.

Over the summer, it was confirmed that Irish authorities were trying to make arrangements to bring Smith back to Ireland.

The 37-year-old Dundalk woman was captured by Kurdish forces in northeast Syria and is being held with her two-year old daughter in the Al-Hawl displacement camp for the wives and children of Islamic State (IS) fighters.

Smith left Ireland in late 2013 and went to Tunisia where she met and married a Muslim man from Britain. It is reported that she became radicalised and by 2015 had travelled to Syria (where Isis have since been defeated).

In July, Varadkar said he wants them to come to Ireland. The Taoiseach told Today with Sean O’Rourke: “I definitely want her child to be able to come home and I would never separate her child from their mother, so yes I do want her to come home.”

However, he added: “We have to bear in mind the fact that we don’t want to put at risk any of our personnel, diplomats or military people.”

Varadkar also noted there are “security issues” to consider and should Smith return home, “gardaí will want to talk to her”. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told TheJournal.ie at the time that the situation was complex. 

“The return to states in the EU of persons suspected of having been active in conflict in Iraq or Syria or residing in conflict areas present complex challenges, including questions of public protection, the prosecution of offences, the protection of citizens’ rights, particularly the rights of non-combatants, and deradicalisation, none of which matters lend themselves to easy resolution.

“The complexity of these cases is such that issues will arise where there is no ready solution and such cases can only be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

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Órla Ryan

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