Belfast Telegraph

Bid to prevent jihadists using Northern Ireland as a back door into Britain

By Tom Brady and David Hughes

The British and Irish authorities are co-operating closely to stop British-born jihadists in Iraq and Syria using Northern Ireland as a back door into the UK.

Immigration officials are sharing watch lists of Islamic extremists who may be trying to evade entry checks.

But data sharing between the two nations is expected to rise to new levels. It will be enhanced in the coming months by cutting edge automated systems to extend the sharing of information and increase the level of checking.

The Republic is also currently working on proposals to develop an advance passenger information system, requiring airlines and other carriers to provide data about passengers. This protocol is likely to be fully operational in the coming months.

Both governments are concerned about radicalisation and security risks posed by jihadis, who return from their home countries to the UK or Ireland and attempt to recruit new accomplices, not known to the authorities.

There are fears that some of the estimated 500 British fighters in the Middle East might try to re-enter the UK by flying to the Republic and then crossing the open border to Northern Ireland.

A close relationship has been built up between top level staff from Dublin's Department of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Office on several of the issues involved, backing up existing co-operation in the justice area.

The Irish Department of Justice said last night that it was fully committed to safeguarding the security of the common travel area and this was given the highest priority by the immigration service.

David Cameron is expected to set out new plans to counter the threat posed by Islamic State militants today.

A temporary ban on British-born jihadists in Iraq and Syria returning to the UK is due to be announced. In a Commons statement, Mr Cameron will also announce plans to improve information-sharing about air passengers, so the police and security services know more about who is travelling and where.

Other measures under consideration would make it easier to remove people's passports through temporary seizure powers at the border in order to prevent them travelling to the Middle East trouble zones where they could link up with Islamic State extremists.

Officials are also looking at the prospect of a "temporary bar" on British citizens suspected of terrorist activity abroad returning, a measure which would stop short of stripping them of citizenship and rendering them stateless.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the country faced "very real threats" but denied that the Government's plans were a "knee-jerk response".

"But when we look at our current instruments, our armoury of things or how we deal with these threats, there are some gaps," he said. "We've had a number of young men going off to fight in Syria, a number of them slipping back home again. We need to make sure that, where we can, we plug those existing gaps."

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