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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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Tom Clonan: Video means it's official - Ireland is a target for Islamic State

“Ireland fits precisely the target profile that attracts ISIS terrorists.”

Tom Clonan Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

A NEW ISLAMIC State propaganda video appears to confirm what has been apparent for some time now. It is official. Ireland, and Irish citizens are a priority target for Islamic State militants.

The video, which purports to be from Islamic State, clearly shows the Irish tricolor among the flags of nations it identifies as a coalition of ‘devils’ and enemies of ISIS.

This ‘revelation’ will come as no surprise to most Irish citizens. Irish people have been killed and injured in almost all Islamist attacks in the west including the Paris attacks, the Tunisian massacre in June of this year, the London 7/7 attacks, the Madrid bombings, Bali and 9/11.

If confirmed as authentic, the latest ISIS video simply confirms what most Irish people have known all along. ISIS and Al Qaeda regard Irish people as legitimate targets in their campaign against western values.

Almost all Irish citizens seem to realise this.

The Irish government on the other hand, seems to be keen to play down the threat. Their attitude seems to be one of, ‘nothing to see here, move along now’.

Lessons learned

isis-2 A clip from the video,purported to be from Isis.

On Monday, just ten days after the Paris attacks, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald gave a worrying interview on RTE Radio’s News at 1 on the ‘lessons learned’ from the incident.

When asked if the Paris attacks had prompted a change in the perceived threat level to Irish citizens on the part of government here, Minister Fitzgerald replied that it ‘remain(s) as it was before … We have not changed it’. The Minister for Justice also remarked, ‘Ireland is not as vulnerable to an attack. The alert levels are different’.

Belgium Paris Attacks A Belgian Army soldier and policeman patrol on a main boulevard in Brussels. Source: AP/Press Association Images

From a security perspective, there are a number of clear difficulties with the Minister’s responses.

To begin with, the Paris attacks and the subsequent security lock-down in Brussels point to a de-facto change in the threat level to EU citizens posed by Islamic State. In other words, the level of coordination involved in the Paris attacks, the level of violence used and the evidence of a substantial network of support to mount such attacks marks a sea change in Islamic State’s capacity for terrorist operations.

The Paris attacks differ fundamentally from previous attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo incident in terms of the numbers of individuals involved and in the planning, command and control and logistics involved.

In short, Islamic State within the European Union is evolving in sophistication and prowess as quickly and dramatically as its parent organisation ISIS within Iraq and Syria.

This has been commented upon widely throughout the EU. Britain, our nearest neighbour, has decided to recruit an extra 1,900 analysts and field operatives to MI5 and MI6 to counter the threat.

Similar initiatives are underway throughout the EU to bolster intelligence gathering and internal security. This is because there has been a fundamental and existential escalation in the threat to all EU citizens posed by Islamic State.

Mideast Iraq Islamic State Iraqi security forces display a flag of the Islamic State group and weapons and ammunition confiscated after regaining control of during operations, from towns of al-Karma and Saqlawiyah near Fallujah Source: AP/Press Association Images

For Minister Fitzgerald to state that the threat level to Irish citizens remains unchanged does not fit with the objective facts. Nor does it fit with plain common sense.

The Paris attackers identified and exploited a weakness in the intelligence continuity between the Belgian and French authorities.

Islamic State in tandem with all Islamist terrorist organisations proactively seeks out such weaknesses and gaps in order to launch attacks. ISIS is attracted to jurisdictions and locations where security infrastructure is poor and where high profile, ‘soft’ targets are available.

Deficiencies

Ireland has the poorest security and intelligence infrastructure within the EU. This is through no fault of an Garda Siochana, the lead intelligence agency within the state.

Nor is it the fault of Defence Forces personnel who support the Gardai in their counter-terrorism role. Our defence and intelligence capacity has been eroded and hollowed out by years of austerity and cutbacks within Justice and Defence.

The comparisons with our EU neighbours are bleak. Britain has MI5, MI6, GCHQ in Cheltenham, the UK Border Force along with its metropolitan and regional constabularies – along with a substantially endowed military intelligence cohort – to monitor internal security and disrupt attacks on the public.

Some attacks will inevitably succeed.

In those circumstances, the reaction time of properly trained, properly armed response units – along with front line doctors and nurses – are essential to reduce loss of life in mass casualty incidents. Such attacks need to be halted within minutes and victims triaged and treated on site. Hence the importance of real time exercises.

Ireland has not mounted such multi-agency exercises in relation to the current threat posed by Islamist extremists. Nor do we have dedicated intelligence agencies such as MI5 or MI6.

Machine Gun Tourism Source: AP/Press Association Images

The Gardai are not trained or equipped to deal with such an attack. Ordinary armed Gardai outside of the ERU have received no training for a number of years now in dealing with heavily armed terrorists or those with suicide vests.

The weapons issued to most armed Gardai are no match for the type of Kalashnikov assault weapons favoured by Islamist extremists.

Gardai have repeatedly asked to be issued with a replacement for the Uzi machine gun – especially in the aftermath of the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe in 2013.

A weapon such as the Colt C8 5.56mm carbine would be the minimum requirement for armed Garda units responding to a terrorist attack in Ireland. At present, detectives responding to such an attack, would be seriously ill-equipped. Irish Army officers have also pointed out in the last week that we are not equipped to deal with the terror threat.

Ireland fits precisely the target profile that attracts ISIS terrorists. Poor security and intelligence infrastructure and high profile soft targets such as the Global Headquarters of Google, Facebook, Twitter – not to mention the use of Shannon Airport by 2.2 million US troops.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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About the author:

Tom Clonan  / Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

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