Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Green Crescent

Ireland's Sunday Independent runs two stories today alleging that Arab terrorists have been using Dublin as a base for their activities. In one case:

Last year, the Sunday Independent reported that Abu-Hafs Al-Libi, originally from Libya, applied for asylum here in 1996, and lived in Ireland until 2004. In 2004, he travelled to Iraq where he was admitted into Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi's terror network ... The case of Al-Libi is not unusual. According to one trusted Arab source, there are "others holding Irish passports who have used them to travel to the Middle East, especially Syria, where they can cross the porous border with Iraq and commit acts of terrorism there".

For example, the Sunday Independent recently learned that a senior Arab militant, who heads one of the most deadly terror outfits in Iraq, is an Irish citizen. That means that although he is in the UK, he can freely travel and live here whenever he chooses.

This might be true, but the lack of an attributed source or name of suspect doesn't help with the credibility of the story. In the other story headlined "Bush furious at Ireland's terror haven," there is a name and some specifics:

a Palestinian terrorist sent here under an international accord skipped the country last year and turned up in Spain. Jihad Jara, described as one of Israel's most wanted men, was granted safe haven in Ireland under an international agreement to end the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002. The Palestinian terrorist was supposed to be monitored by gardai while here but he managed to leave Ireland and travel to Spain for several weeks last year, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Indeed there was general feeling at the time that the compromise that ended the siege was a complete botch and that some of the exiles would, like a bad penny, keep turning up. However, the Sindo reporters also reveal, via flattery, who they've been chatting to with regards to this story:

The extent of America's disquiet over the Palestinian terrorist's Spanish jaunt will be made clear in an influential US television investigation to be broadcast in the coming weeks. The programme is expected to embarrass the government and the Gardai, who have sought to play down the presence of militant Islamic fundamentalists in Ireland. NBC's Dateline broadcasts to millions and will almost certainly put Ireland's record on international terrorism under a global spotlight.

NBC assigned its top investigation team, headed by the multi-award-winning journalist, Lisa Myers, to probe the activities of Jara and other suspected terrorists in Ireland. Myers is renowned for her top-level intelligence contacts.

Myers's reputation adds huge weight to the programme. Currently senior investigative correspondent with NBC News, Myers was the first to broadcast secret CIA surveillance footage of Osama Bin Laden. She has won numerous awards, including an Emmy for her reports on the federal funds being spent to rebuild Iraq.

Not for the first time, the Sindo would have benefitted from a Google search before rushing these words of praise into print, a search (tailored to Atrios) that would quickly reveal her tendency to spin for Republicans, such as this doctoring of a phone conversation tape to make it more damaging to Bill Clinton, and this tendentious "fact check" of John Kerry from the campaign trail last year.

But that's not to say she's wrong. To the extent that the Garda are designed for anti-terrorism at all, it's for IRA terrorism, not the kind that might use Dublin as just one of a number of bases for attacks in the Middle East. And it's highly plausible that there are dodgy characters running around the Middle East with Irish passports. Because the Republic's natural party of government, Fianna Fail, was handing them out like confetti in the early 1990s as long as the cheques were big enough.

UPDATE 8 JULY: In light of the London bombs and the presumption of local al Qaeda involvement, there is renewed attention in Ireland on this issue. Bertie Ahern addressed it today (free link; subs. link):

"We take that very seriously, the gardaĆ­ work very very closely with international security and we do watch certain individuals very very closely," he said at a function in Dublin City University.

"There are people living in the Republic of Ireland that we have to attach huge importance to and we do. This week underlines that and we do that as part of international co-operation."

The Taoiseach also said he did not believe allowing US troops to use Shannon International Airport had left the country exposed to a greater risk of terrorist attack.

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