Saturday 22 October 2016

Declan Power: Stronger links with Irish Muslims is best option to keep us safe

Police officers patrol the beach near the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, Tunisia
Police officers patrol the beach near the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, Tunisia

The recent arrest of an individual by members of the Garda's Special Detective Unit reminds us once again that the biggest enemy Ireland faces in maintaining its security is complacency.

Recent threat assessments carried out by both the Defence Force's Intelligence Directorate (G2) and the Garda's Crime and Security Branch (CSB) indicate that Ireland is not near the top of the list of likely targets for eager jihadis.

However, there are some things that must be kept in mind. An attack on Irish soil might not be spectacular enough for jihadists, but if there was no other alternative and a soft target presented itself, why not attack Dublin, or Cork, or Killarney for that matter?

To paraphrase the great military thinker Sun Tzu: '...attack your enemy whenever and wherever you can, never let him feel secure'. And no, I'm not talking about the threat of an attack on Shannon Airport.

It's far too obvious a location for a self-respecting Islamic terrorist and certainly a no-go for an attempted lone-wolf attack.

But a copy-cat attack on tourists like Tunisia would be quite a coup for Islamic fundamentalists.

The publicity from murdering a number of helpless, aged American tourists on Irish soil would make Americans feels unsafe in places they would normally regard as safe havens.

One could ask, why then has this not happened before? Despite a lot of the scaremongering that has taken place in the past, the reason is it would be quite difficult for jihadists to engage in the preparatory work required to carry out an operation like this in Ireland without coming under the gaze of our security forces.

Regardless of what we are sometimes led to believe, our security services have a good grasp of who comes and goes in our territory and what their intent is. Often, our neighbouring security services from either side of the Atlantic have been initially sceptical of Ireland's internal security arrangements, but when required, they have relied heavily on native security assets when international terrorism embroiled Ireland.

The fact is, our biggest defences to date have always been our small land mass and our still, largely indigenous, native population. In plain English, it is difficult for people who do not look stereotypically Irish to engage in suspicious activity without drawing attention to themselves.

This was a factor in G2 managing to roll up German/IRA-inspired espionage networks during WW2 and it still stands today. However, times have changed and there are large pockets of varying ethnic groups who are more difficult to monitor.

The vast majority of these people mean Ireland no harm, in fact most feel quite loyal to their new homeland which in most cases they fled to in order to escape a despotic regime.

However, there are elements who swim within this benign ethnic sea who are not harmless. This newspaper's sister publication, the Irish Independent, stated less than a year ago that up to 40 Irish passport holders were believed by international security agencies to have left to fight with ISIS.

This gives rise to the other challenges facing the forces of the State regarding our internal security: our security forces must find ways of identifying and monitoring these extremists.


In some cases, the Islamic community has ignored them as they didn't see those malcontents as posing a threat to Ireland per se.

But that is not true. While their initial intent is to either fight with ISIS in Syria or Iraq, there are elements who attempt to use our territory to plan or organise in order to facilitate terrorism elsewhere.

Therefore, the most important resource in keeping Ireland and our European neighbours safe, is the cooperation of the new Muslim Irish.

Irish Muslims must continue to alert the authorities when encountering jihadists. An enhancement of the partnership between our security forces and the Irish Muslim community is our soundest defence.

Declan Power is a former soldier now working as a security and defence analyst. He works regularly abroad in risk and crisis management roles for national and international bodies

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