Belfast Telegraph

Special forces must be used to target leaders of Islamic State

By Jeffrey Donaldson

The poisonous ideology of the so-called Islamic State within the last few days has moved from the seemingly far-off deserts and cities of Iraq and Syria to a popular holiday resort in Tunisia. On the same day at least 27 people were killed by an explosion at a Shia mosque in Kuwait city, and in France a man was beheaded.

Back in September of last year we supported limited military action in Iraq to tackle the threat posed by these extremists in that country.

Like many, we were appalled at the outrages perpetrated against minorities and it was right that the UK responded to the request made by the Iraqi Government.

We did so also because, even at that time, there was a clear threat to the people of the United Kingdom. That threat has clearly escalated and the brutal murder of at least 18 British and three Irish holidaymakers as they relaxed on a tourist beach has demonstrated the level of threat those indoctrinated by a warped ideology pose.

The fact there is no evidence to link those behind the attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France simply highlights the particular complexity of the threat and the complexity of the solution that will be required.

We require a measured and strategic military response to this central "leadership" of Isil. There were similar tactics used against the leadership of al-Qaida, which saw the deployment of special forces specifically targeting those who pose the greatest threat.

These should be combined with an increase in coalition air strikes, which are vital to assist local forces drive back the advance of Isis and repel them from cities which have previously fallen under their control.

In all of this, however, it is the local Arab states which must take the lead on the ground in countering the terrorists. The UK has taken a lead in providing assistance, but a large-scale presence on the ground from either the UK or other Western nations is likely to prove counter-productive.

We must also ensure that support is given to emerging democracies, such as Tunisia and other countries, so that their efforts to tackle extremists within their borders are supported.

As popular tourist destinations, countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt must also ensure that security is increased at airports and at other sites where the threats are greatest.

We know that several hundred UK citizens have already travelled to Syria to engage in fighting within that country and we must work to counter the extremist message here at home.

There are some examples of how television advertising was used to this end in the past here in Northern Ireland. Such campaigns saw a marked increase in calls to the confidential telephone number and there is an obvious opportunity to update this for the 21st century, both in the message and the media on which such campaigns are aired.

It is clear that Isil have been able to spread their message widely through the use of social media and that must be countered using this media, also.

It is right that our nation will pause at noon on Friday for a minute's silence for the victims of the attack in Tunisia. There are few people across the United Kingdom who recognise the horrors of terrorism more than here in Northern Ireland and, while it is a new and different kind of threat than faced in the past, it still bears the essential hallmarks of terrorism.

Defeating not just those who engage in these acts of terrorism, but the extremism which motivates them will be a complex task - and one which is unlikely to be quickly, or easily, achieved.

  • Jeffrey Donaldson is DUP MP for Lagan Valley

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