EU approves action plan to deal with jihadists

21/07/2014

The EU is determined to address potential security threats from jihad returnees from the Middle East.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 21/07/14

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Police in Spain arrest a jihadi fighter that has returned from Syria. [AFP]

The EU is changing its approach to more efficiently deal with Islamic fighters returning from Syria and the Middle East and posing security risks in their home countries, officials said.

"We are engaged now in a more multilateral response. There is growing awareness all around the Mediterranean, from Morocco to Turkey, that we need to work together. We are much more engaged with these countries," Gilles De Kerchove, EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator, said.

More than 2,000 Islamic extremists from Europe have fought in Syria and an undetermined number have returned, De Kerchove said.

The extremists are going to Syria despite pleas from governments -- some have approved laws that make it illegal to fight in foreign wars -- and statements from Islamic leaders who denounced jihad.

Experts have long warned that once jihadists go in the field, they become more radicalised and join a network that spans the globe. Kerchove said not all returnees will mount an attack in the EU, but their high overall number increases the chances of a terror attack occurring.

Representatives of eight most affected EU countries -- Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom -- approved an action plan in Milan on July 7th for a co-ordinated use of information-sharing to prevent terrorist attacks.

"The aim is to improve the use the Schengen Information System, target border controls, transmission of information to Europol for joint analysis, share information about foreign fighters with national authorities as well as practical co-operation and exchange of information, for example in the use of passenger data," the EU said.

The EU said they will meet with Twitter, Facebook and Google in October to develop a public-private partnership to better respond to the challenge of radicalisation over the internet.

Experts said the action plan includes prevention, detection of suspected travel movements, monitoring and dealing with jihad returnees and arrests of those that have committed crimes abroad.

Moreover, the EU will set up a workshop in the western Balkan countries on radicalisation prevention.

The EU is supporting Balkan law enforcement agencies with assistance programs against terrorism as well as organised crime, said Xhavit Shala, a security expert and professor at Tirana University.

"Terrorism contains a direct threat for the security of all the countries that fight it, including Albania. It is a clear message to all those who have been activated in that conflict and who have tendencies to be re-activated," Shala told SETimes.

Experts said the Balkan countries are for the most part providers rather than users of actionable information.

"The action plan will create an opportunity for integrated action among stakeholders on a supranational level," Kristina Remenski, a professor at the Security Faculty in Skopje, told SETimes.

Kerchove said the EU also wants to reinforce its co-operation with Turkey.

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Turkey has stepped up measures to prevent the flow of jihadists into crisis-torn Syria and Iraq, amid growing fears that they will return to their home countries and plan attacks in future.

"Turkey has already taken some additional measures to be more vigilant at the border and to improve the way which we exchange information with Turkey, so we are working on it," Kerchove said.

Correspondent Miki Trajkovski in Skopje contributed to this report.

What else can Balkan countries do to address the issue of jihad returnees? Share your opinion below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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