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Security

The EU's anti-terror plan

Alarm bells are ringing in the EU, as the number of homegrown terrorists with training abroad continues rising. German police speak of a "ticking time bomb." The European Union now has a plan.

Alarm bells are ringing in the EU, as the number of homegrown terrorists with training abroad continues rising. German police speak of a "ticking time bomb." The European Union now has a plan.

Gilles de Kerchove is concerned about the summer holidays. As the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator, he worries the number of radicalized young Muslims could rise over the next few months; people who could opt to leave Europe and get trained in Syria or Iraq as Islamist fighters and bombers. Trainees making their way to the Middle East have often just left school or are even minors, Kerchove reported to other EU interior ministers during their meeting in Milan on Wednesday (09.07.2014).

The proclamation of a Sunni-Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq by terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could provide another pull factor, according to the EU coordinator. "Those who share the idea that the caliphate is the ultimate goal may be attracted to go there to be part of the process," Kerchove said in Milan.

The EU estimates that roughly 2,000 EU citizens and foreigners holding EU residency permits are either fighting in Syria's civil war or training in Islamist camps.

Attack in Brussels

Gilles de Kerchove in an Office setting

Gilles de Kerchove: "We need to act immediately"

The group of interior ministers has been on edge since an attack in Brussels allegedly carried out by a French jihadist at the end of May. The suspect killed four people in a Jewish museum and was arrested only by coincidence in Marseille, France, days after the attack. He is said to have fought for ISIS.

"The abstract danger of returnees became concrete," said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere of the Brussels attack.

According to information in German daily newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," the perpetrator had first attracted the attention of German authorities at Frankfurt airport. After consultation with French colleagues, however, he was allowed to travel onward.

Generally, Germany's police union speaks of a ticking time bomb. A day before the ministers' meeting in Milan, police in Luxembourg announced the arrest of a jihadist accused of planning a terror attack.

Better controls

Nine EU member states strongly affected by the return of jihadist fighters, among them Germany, now want to implement action plans, according to Kerchove. While the details remain confidential, Kerchove said the plan would include better data exchange on suspects and improved screening at entry and exit points on the EU's external borders.

Thomas de Maiziere in Italy

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in Milan

Up until now, only the validity of passports and identity cards has been checked at border entries. In the future, border officials would access information about previous entrance routes into the country and on potential manhunts for certain individuals.

They would also screen entrants against information from law enforcement and secret service agencies so that suspects can be filtered out of the stream of travelers.

Additionally, Kerchove says the EU should better coordinate its activities with non-EU countries as potential transit country for Islamist "holy warriors." This includes Turkey, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Egypt and other countries in North Africa.

Airspace, cyberspace

Additionally, passenger data from airlines will be better gathered and evaluated. All this would result in significantly better detection of Islamist fighters returning from Syria and Iraq, Kerchove said.

A man with his back to the camera stands before a number of automatic weapons

Syrian rebels are attracting EU citizens through online propaganda, among other means

In the digital realm, the EU also intends to increase its monitoring of the Internet, which Islamists use to spread propaganda and as a recruitment tool. Kerchove referenced Great Britain, which has already removed 35,000 webpages from the Internet. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ceicilia Malmström is already in discussions with Internet giants Google, Twitter and Facebook about enacting similar measures across the continent.

De Maiziere said that strengthening those controls could require, in some cases, alteration of laws and regulations within the Schengen zone, which operates on the principle of free movement.

Italy's interior minister announced in Milan that concrete proposals are expected in October.

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