herald

Friday 18 August 2017

Garda's armed unit beefed up by a third to combat terrorism threat

Noirin O'Sullivan
Noirin O'Sullivan
The Garda Armed Response Unit (ARU) will have its numbers boosted by 20

The Garda Armed Response Unit (ARU) will have its numbers boosted by 20 in response to the threat of Islamist terrorism, as well as home-grown gang violence.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has told the public not to be afraid by the presence of gun-wielding officers on the streets.

Currently, the Dublin-based ARU has 55 members, but the commissioner said a further 20 would be in place by June 22, which she said was an increase in capacity of one-third.

"On top of that, what we have done is we have a competition under way to increase our Armed Support Unit right around the country and the region... to make sure there is 24/7 response capability," she said.

"That is to make sure that we are protecting the public. So what you would have seen with the introduction of the Armed Support Unit, you will see more visible overt armed patrols. You will see people patrolling. And people shouldn't be afraid of that, that's actually to make sure that the public are safe."

She said the increase in armed members was also for the safety of garda officers.

The commissioner, responding to claims that gardai on the ground were unprepared for an attack here, praised the bravery of members.

She said any response to an attack would come in tiers, with the first including the Emergency Response Unit and the Armed Support Unit.

Incident

She added that training for members around the country on what the response to a terrorist incident should be was going to increase.

"By the end of this month, we will have more live exercises," she said. "That isn't because we have any specific intelligence, but I think that's the reality, that we have to have an agile response to be able to deal with incidents as they occur - whether they are terrorist, or they're organised crime, or whatever quarter they come from."

Amid concern Ireland was the weak link in Europe, the commissioner said gardai took our national security responsibilities very seriously and claimed terrorism was not about religion.

It emerged following the attack that one of the three London attackers, Rachid Redouane, had lived in the south Dublin suburb of Rathmines and married here in November 2012. Asked by the Herald how many gardai were proficient in reading and speaking Arabic, the commissioner said there were a number of members who had proficiency in different languages.

"We also have access to translators and interpreters, who are available to us on a 24/7 basis that we can call upon," she said.

When asked for the number of gardai, if any, who were proficient in Arabic specifically, the garda press office declined to state a figure.

Ms O'Sullivan also said recent incidents had demonstrated a changing world.

"We continuously review the threat assessment, we also review our response capability," she said.

"I think what's really evident is the world around us is changing, and if we need a sharp reminder of that, it's London Bridge."

Engagement

She said over the past three years, and especially in the wake of the 2015 Bataclan attack in Paris, gardai have been focused on engagement with minority communities.

Ms O'Sullivan was speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police forum on policing in the digital age, which was hosted by An Garda Siochana at Farmleigh House, in the Phoenix Park.

Meanwhile, the Italian mother of one of the London Bridge attackers says her 22-year-old son became radicalised in Britain, falling under the spell of Islamic extremism and confiding to her that he had dreams of moving to Syria.

Valeria Khadija Collina said her son Youssef Zaghba, an Italian national of Moroccan descent, told her he wanted to go to Syria to start a family in a religious Islamic climate - not to fight. He changed, she said, when he went to Britain about a year ago and was seduced by radical views propagated on the internet.

"Last year ... when I went to England, he was a bit more rigid," Collina, a convert to Islam, told reporters in a series of interviews yesterday. "From his face, from his look, I could see there was a radicalisation, as you say, and this happened in England, absolutely."

The other two attackers were identified as Khurum Butt, a 27-year-old whose extremist views had been reported to police, and 30-year-old Redouane.

It was not immediately clear how the three knew each other, but Collina said she recognised both Butt and Redouane.

She said she didn't approve of his London friends and never felt comfortable in the London neighborhood where he lived.

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