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17th Aug 2019

EU states adopt new counter-terrorism plan

The European Union's counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, has said several EU states have adopted a new “action plan” to counter Syria-bound EU national fighters, AFP reports.

The initiative was agreed in the margins of an informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Milan on Monday (7 July).

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  • Up to 2,000 EU nationals have left for Syria, according to EU estimates (Photo: FreedomHouse2)

Ministers from Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden took part in the event held in the margins. Eight of the countries, but not Sweden, went on to adopt the plan.

Kerchove noted that details will remain confidential.

But he said the plan will be submitted to an EU-level debate at the next formal interior ministers' meeting in October.

The broad idea is to better identify people wanting to make the journey to Syria in the first place. The suspected national would then be tracked and taken into custody upon return if needed, AFP reports.

Some civil liberties may be stretched in the name of greater security, AFP added.

In a flavour of possible future action, the US attorney general, Eric Holder, in a speech in Oslo on Tuesday also asked EU governments to do more.

Holder said EU authorities need to use undercover agents to catch fighters before they leave. He also said member states need to better share travel information among themselves and with the US.

"Because our citizens can freely travel, visa-free, from the US to Norway and other European states - and vice versa - the problem of fighters in Syria returning to any of our countries is a problem for all of our countries,” he said.

US pressure is mounting for the EU to adopt the EU passenger records name (PNR) bill, which was blocked by MEPs in the civil liberties committee last year.

PNR data is personal information provided by passengers and collected by the air carriers. The data would be accessible to authorities investigating crime and terrorist threats.

France, for its part, is set to pass a bill on Wednesday that would entitle authorities to confiscate passports for would-be fighters.

EU estimates suggest up to 2,000 EU nationals have left for Syria and other battle zones although the figure is reportedly expected to rise.

Kerchove pointed out not all are leaving for the countries with the intention to go and fight.

Holder cited up to 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria alone.

Many who leave for the conflict zones are said to receive extensive training by extremist groups in places like Iraq, Syria, and Somalia.

Authorities warn some may return radicalised and pose a serious threat to national security.

Last month, Kerchove warned that Islamist group ISIS, which has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria, is likely training and directing foreign fighters to carry out attacks in Europe and elsewhere.

At the time, he also suggested more robust surveillance of social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

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