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24th Sep 2018

EU commission backs passport confiscation of jihadist suspects

  • Plans are afoot in several member states to confiscate the travel documents of suspected jihadists (Photo: afagen)

The European Commission has endorsed national plans to seize travel documents of suspected jihadists.

A handful of governments have either enacted laws to confiscate the documents or are in the process of doing so. The plan is to stop EU nationals from travelling to Syria or Iraq to fight alongside Islamic militants.

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  • Up to 5,000 EU nationals are foreign fighters, says Europol (Photo: FreedomHouse2)

“The commission would support this type of initiative if it were taken by member states,” EU commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said Friday (16 January).

The Brussels executive says police need to update the EU-wide Schengen information system (SIS) with the changes to passports’ status.

The system alerts border guards, police, customs officials, visa and judicial authorities throughout the border-free Schengen area of anyone not supposed to be in the EU or suspected of having committed a crime.

The European commission’s political support comes on the heels of a number of national initiatives to clamp down on potential foreign fighters as police conduct widespread anti-terrorism raids.

Over two-dozen people were arrested on Friday in German, French, and Belgian police sweeps, reports the Associated Press.

The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris last week and the deadly Belgian stand off on Thursday evening is adding pressure on governments to react.

Among the anti-jihadist hopefuls is Denmark whose parliament on Friday debated a bill proposed by the justice ministry in December.

The Danish bill allows police to withdraw passports, refuse a request to issue a passport, and impose a travel ban.

Passports can be held up to one year at a time with the possibility of renewing the ban should new evidence emerge that the person remains a security risk.

Anyone suspected of the intention to participate in a militant tour abroad and who is considered to pose a serious threat to public security in Denmark or other states falls under its scope.

The bill includes a fast-track provision on judicial oversight for anyone who contests having their passports taken in the first place.

It also entitles those whose travel documents were seized to apply for a temporary passport in case of funerals or work.

If passed, the bill will become law on 1 March.

France has also stepped up its laws.

On Wednesday, the government passed a decree that would prevent people from leaving the country to join IS’ ranks.

French anti-terror laws call for severe penalties for those found guilty of condoning or provoking terrorism with fines of up to €100,000 or seven-year jail sentence if it is done online.

In Germany, existing legislation allows authorities to seize passports of nationals intent on joining any number of Islamic militant training camps.

But Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas has since extended the offence to national ID cards in their crackdown against foreign fighters.

The ID cards, under the German proposal, could be held for up to three years.

The UK, for its part, introduced a counter-terrorism and security bill last November.

It allows authorities to seize and temporarily retain the travel documents, including passports, of anyone suspected of an “involvement in terrorism-related activity”.

The UK government says it is needed because current powers do not allow authorities to cancel a passport when someone is about to leave the country.

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