There IS a militant Islamic presence in Ireland. On July 6 a Jordanian living in Ireland since 2000 was deported. What made this gentleman special (300 odd have been deported this year ) is that his deportation came after a lengthy legal battle, held in camera, in which the judge was finally convinced by the State that he was the main recruiter for ISIS in Ireland and “ the foremost organiser and facilitator of travel “ for would-be ISIS fighters. His claim to reside in Ireland was on the basis of an Irish born son. While here he had been living on Irish Social Welfare. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald made clear afterwards that the Government would deport as necessary where matters of national security were involved.
The deportation came a week before the mass murder in Nice of eighty five by an ISIS sympathiser. The spate of recent lone wolf terror attacks, including the horrendous Bastille Day massacre, has left much of Europe on edge wondering whether anywhere is safe. The simple answer is “Nowhere” but clearly there are degrees of threat. As elsewhere, threat assessment is being conducted here.
Irish people have had several brushes with Middle Eastern terrorism. Three Irish holiday makers were among those murdered in Tunisia last year and Irish people were among those wounded in the Paris Bataclan massacre last November. The roll call of murders and beheadings in Iraq included a couple of Irish citizens. And, going back a generation, in 1986, a young, totally innocent, Irish woman in London was duped by her Jordanian fiancée into attempting to carry a bomb disguised in a suitcase onto an EL AL 747.
It would be surprising if there weren’t some elements of radical Islam here, given the proximity of Britain, Ireland’s relatively easy going and open society and the number of immigrants to arrive since the Millenium. The official line is that threat of a direct terror attack here is moderate. This despite a bragging ISIS video last November which identified Ireland as part of the “kuffars” ( the n-word favoured by ISIS to describe Christians and others)forming the global “Coalition of Devils” opposed to the Islamic State. This may just mean that we are, like all infidels, fair game and clearly the possibility of a lone wolf attack can never be discounted totally. However, with this caveat, the official threat assessment looks reasonable for several reasons.
Realistically there are easier and more obvious targets. Ireland is not a NATO member; we are a militarily neutral country and not part of the coalition fighting ISIS ( a reason cited by ISIS when claiming different terrorist atrocities). It is true that Ireland permits US troops to stopover at Shannon Airport, but, against that, geographically Ireland is remote, an offshore island behind an offshore island, rendering logistics for any attack that more difficult. Moreover, for what it’s worth, Ireland has been seen as pro-Palestinian and Irish troops on UN Peacekeeping operations in the region have a high reputation.
The nature and position of the Muslim community in Ireland are also factors. Mao’s aphorism that a “guerrilla must move among the people as a fish swims in the sea” is relevant here. While there are a small numbers of ISIS activists known or suspected to be living here – the deportee was reported to be one of a group of about thirteen – the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community in Ireland, as elsewhere, are law abiding and have no truck with ISIS or militant Islam. The community is numerically small, roughly 50,000 or 1% of the population in the 2011 census, and, therefore hardly constituting a critical mass within which ISIS – or Al Qaida – could move with impunity. Indeed in Western Europe only Finland, Portugal and the Baltics have less Muslims, numerically and proportionately.
Moreover, Islam in Ireland, which is mainly of recent origin, has developed in a different pattern to those other European countries with large Muslim communities. In Germany most are Turks, in France and Belgium most are from North Africa, in Britain most are from the Indian sub-Continent. Muslims here appear more diverse in terms of race and ethnic origin and most came with established skill sets and for specific purposes rather than as refugees or economic migrants. An important consequence is that Ireland has no predominantly Muslim or immigrant ghettoes akin to Molenbeek in Brussels or one of the Parisian banlieues , where extremism flourishes among sections of the alienated young ( or indeed to Leeds, where three of the London Tube bombers grew up) . There is no sense or feeling that a separate community within the community is evolving here.
Yet a problem, however small, clearly exists and with alarm bells ringing in the aftermath of the July terror attacks, the facts such as they are are being picked over by the media here . Security briefings suggest that up to fifty young Irish Muslims have gone to fight for ISIS. While this could be partly written off as rebellious and impressionable youth, there have also been calls in recent months from some of the Imams here for closer engagement by the authorities with their communities as well as claims by them that extremists are active, lecturing and proselytising. One factor is that the common travel area with Britain makes it easy for radical preachers and recruiters to travel here and hold private sessions. And, as experience elsewhere has shown, grooming over the Internet is virtually impossible to monitor.
The adequacy of our surveillance measures to combat any threat, particularly for a police force shredded by cuts since 2008, has been questioned. More resources have been promised to the Gardai to beef up the existing structures but these have yet to come on stream and there has been criticism from some Garda representatives that the force is ill prepared to deal with an atrocity.
There have been complaints also about the lack of information and transparency on Ireland’s anti-terrorist security structures and operations generally, in contrast to Britain. This, and the sharing of information with other security services, is clearly a delicate issue. Surveillance of terrorists here has traditionally been directed at republican terrorism , where for various reasons very little was divulged publicly and old habits die hard. Moreover, the threat from dissident republicans remains a real one, with men, weapons and explosives very much here on the island and constituting a real quantifiable threat.
Indeed the proximity of Britain adds another worrying dimension. Up to now attention and resources in the North have concentrated on dissident republicans, who constitute a clear and present danger, both locally and in terms of possible infiltration, into Britain. There is now the additional possibility of Ireland being used as a base by Islamic extremists from which to plan or even mount an attack against Britain. However remote this may appear the British have been worried enough to brief at (anonymous)Ministerial level pointing out that Northern Ireland is not part of the U.K.’s “Prevent” strategy to combat violent extremism. Thrillers have been written around the subject. With increased vigilance let’s hope that nightmare scenario remains in the realm of fiction.