As Britain scrambles to assess its counter-terrorism security following the horrific beheading of Irish American journalist James Foley by an ISIS militant with a British accent, Ireland is also weighing the threat homegrown jihadists may pose.
Irish authorities confirmed yesterday that they are closely watching the movements of nearly 30 Irish Muslims who have been traveling from Ireland to Iraq and other conflict zones in recent months.
Three of those who were under surveillance are believed to have been killed, including a 16-year-old boy.
The remainder are also being monitored by international security agencies, the Irish Independent reports, as suspicions emerge that potential jihadists with Irish papers have been using Ireland as a base between tours of fighting in the Middle East.
Throughout the EU, an estimated 2,000 citizens have journeyed to conflict regions in the Middle East intent on taking part in the fighting.
The Muslim community in Ireland comprises approximately 50,000 people, of whom fewer than 100 are believed to be Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathizers.
While the overall threat of international terror is still considered low in Ireland, the Garda Special Branch Middle Eastern Desk and military intelligence units are re-focusing their efforts on identifying possible “lone wolf” attackers and foreign operatives.
One previous example is Mohamed Meguerba, who was arrested in his native Algeria in 2002 for plotting a ricin attack in London. Meguerba arrived in Ireland in 1997, was radicalized by a cleric in Belfast, and then trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
An Irish Independent article published yesterday noted that a young ISIS fighter who has been posting recruitment messages online and identifies himself as “half Irish, half Nigerian.”
In English, the man explains the most discreet way to travel to Syria; promises free food, weapons and accommodation; and calls jihad an obligation for all Muslims.
The last US Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney (whose posting ended in December 2012 and has yet to be filled as Kevin O’Malley’s nomination is stalled in Congress), had voiced concern that funding cuts to Irish government initiatives to better integrate Muslim immigrants into Irish society could result in their alienation and radicalization.
Authorities from the UK and the US are working to identify the British-accented murderer of James Foley, with recent intelligence provided by former hostages indicating that his name is John and he previously lived in London.
At a Pentagon news briefing held on Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey called ISIS “an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated.”
He suggested that action in Syria, where ISIS has found a sanctuary to grow its ranks – now estimated to range from 10,000 to 17,000 fighters – may ultimately prove necessary.