Belfast Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Ireland no exception in post-9/11 watchfulness

By Shane Phelan

In the aftermath of 9/11, US diplomats worldwide were tasked with taking a heightened interest in the activities of Muslim communities in the countries where they were stationed.

The Republic of Ireland was no exception, as can be seen from many of the leaked US embassy cables which originated in Dublin.

The US State Department regularly pressed embassy officials for up-to-date reports on Ireland's 40,000-strong Muslim population.

The sort of information sought included comings and goings from the main mosques, profiles of religious leaders, fundraising activities by suspected extremists, the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, and information on divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Year after year, detailed dossiers were compiled by embassy officials in Dublin and sent to Washington.

Cables show that as part of the information gathering process, the embassy held discussions with officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice.

Subjects covered included discussions on named individuals living in Ireland and suspected extremists with possible links to Ireland.

But the embassy did not just rely on Irish government and intelligence sources for their information.

They also cultivated their own civilian contacts, including teachers, NGO workers, city council officials, and members of the different Muslim communities.

An outreach programme was set up in 2004. This involved the hosting of events by ambassadors and embassy staff for members of the Muslim community.

Irish Muslims were also nominated for a state department-sponsored exchange programme.

Cables indicate the strongest ties were built up with the mainly pro-US Shia community, which is a small minority compared to the Sunni Muslim population in Ireland.

Embassy officials said it was harder to make inroads with the Sunnis because of their opposition to US policy on Iraq and Israel.

Meetings with Sunnis were "more difficult to arrange" and embassy officials were regarded "with suspicion", according to one cable.

Visits to Ireland by extremists -- such as two in 2005 and 2006 by Anjem Choudry of Al-Muhajiroun, an organisation now banned in the UK -- were extensively documented by US diplomats.

Apart from monitoring radicals, cables show Washington analysts were keenly interested in information on moderate Muslims promoting tolerant forms of political Islam -- so the US could attempt to forge contacts with them.

Cables show much of the embassy's focus was on the operation of four mosques in Dublin:

  • The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, a Sunni mosque in Clonskeagh and the largest in Ireland, funded by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rachid Al Maktoum, a member of the royal family of Dubai.
  • The Islamic Foundation of Ireland mosque on South Circular Road, founded by students in the 1970s.
  • The Blackpitts mosque in the south inner city, sponsored by college professor Mazhar Bari and mainly attended by members of the Pakistani community.
  • And the Ahlul Bait mosque, for Shia Muslims, in Milltown, which had ties to Iraqi opposition groups during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Information sent back to the State Department included the numbers and nationalities of those attending each mosque, as well as profiles and accounts of public statements made by religious leaders and prominent members of each mosque.

Focus was also put on the influence of the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research, which is seeking greater recognition for Islamic law in Europe.

Far from seeing US questions as an intrusion, cables suggest Irish officials welcomed information sharing on possible extremists as they did not have far-reaching intelligence capabilities. For example, the designation by the US of the Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA) and its Libyan-born Irish representative Ibrahim Buisir for alleged terror financing activities in 2004 came as a surprise to Irish officials, who were glad to receive the information.

In 2005, embassy officials reported to Washington that up to 30 al-Qa'ida sympathisers were under garda special branch and army intelligence surveillance.

However, it is abundantly clear from the cables that while US officials had a variety of concerns they were still of the view Irish Muslims were overall content and moderate.

The Americans frequently drew blanks when searching for evidence of extremist activity in Ireland and on other occasions doubted the veracity of information they received.

FOR example, in 2004 US officials pressed the Government for information on any activity in Ireland by the Jama'at al'Tawhid wal-Jihad organisation, more commonly known as "al Qa'ida in Iraq", only to find there was no evidence on offer.

Information was frequently sought on whether suspected terrorists held funds with Irish financial institutions. But, according to cables, no such assets were found.

Members of the Shia community also expressed concerns to the embassy that extremists were operating in Ireland and said they were not confident Irish authorities were taking the matter seriously. However, embassy officials felt some of the information supplied was exaggerated or inaccurate.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph