European Union looks to respond to threat of radical Islam

The French and European flags fly at half-mast among flags of the other member states of the European Union in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 8, 2015. (Reuters)

EU foreign ministers pledged on Monday to counter radical Muslims returning from Syria and Iraq with a better strategy at home and abroad, but ruled out sweeping new laws in the wake of the Jan. 7 Paris attacks.

Following the deadliest assault by militant Islamists on a European city since suicide bombers targeted London’s transport system in 2005, Europe is seeking a united response without new legislation or a prolonged military presence on its streets.

“We are determined to do what is necessary to keep Europe safe from the terrorist threat,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said as he arrived for the meeting, adding that better sharing of airline passenger data was one way to do that.

Foreign ministers, in their first decision of the day, agreed to appeal against a European Union court ruling that the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas should be removed from the bloc’s terrorist list.

Ministers will lay the groundwork for a string of meetings culminating in an EU leaders’ summit on Feb. 12-13 in Brussels to set out the bloc’s strategy to deal with Muslims heading to Middle East war zones or returning radicalised from the region.

Priorities include a crackdown on arms trafficking, support for police in the Middle East and North Africa, trying to stop EU citizens leaving to fight abroad and seeking to curb radical Islam on the Internet to stop EU citizens from bringing violence back home.

“You have to send to prison only those jihadis who have blood on their hands. The others (should go) into a disengagement system,” said Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s anti-terrorism coordinator, who was at Monday’s meeting.

“The key point is to control the Internet and social networks,” he told France’s Europe 1 radio.

Before chairing the meeting, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini discussed the issues with the secretary-general of the Cairo-based Arab League, Nabil El-Araby.

“The threat is not only the one we faced in Paris but also spreading in many parts of the world, starting in Muslim countries,” Mogherini said. “We need to share information more, we need to cooperate more.”

In the next few days, interior ministers will consider a plan to withdraw the travel documents of EU citizens looking to go to Syria or Iraq, or of those seen as a threat in Europe.

The rules underpinning the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, which removes border controls among most EU countries, could be used to empower guards on external borders to undertake systematic checks of EU citizens arriving from a third country.

“In Shengen, we need to be more systematic and effective with regard to frontiers,” de Kerchove said.

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Last Update: 10:54 KSA 13:54 - GMT 10:54
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