Home-grown terrorism rising in EU, Europol says
The number of arrests connected to terrorism doubled in the European Union in 2007, while the overwhelming majority of attacks carried out in its territory were linked to separatism, the EU's police office, Europol, said in a report released on Monday (7 April).
Last year, EU member states reported to Europol a total number of 583 attacks and 1044 arrested suspects - something that amounts to a 24 percent and a 48 percent increase respectively compared to 2006.
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However, 89 percent of all reported attacks were related to separatist violence in Spain and France. Only four were related to militant Islam.
The number of detained Muslim extremists suspected of violence dropped from 257 in 2006 to 201 in 2007, while home-made explosives continue to be their most popular tool.
Despite an apparent decrease, several EU states say that the threat of Islamic radicalism "has either increased or at least remains high".
According to the director of Europol, Max-Peter Ratzel, the threat is "partly" rooted in Pakistan-based groups linked to Al-Qaida. EU nationals continue to be recruited mainly for activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, although Somalia is also becoming a new destination for jihadists.
"Al-Qaida is still and will continue to dominate international terrorism for years to come," said EU anti-terrorism chief, Gilles de Kerchove, while also referring to cases outside the EU, when EU citizens were killed or kidnapped in Northern Africa.
Out of the total 1044 arrested last year, the vast majority were EU citizens suspected of membership in a militant organisation. In cases of Islamic extremism, the would-be attackers appear to increasingly have been born in the union's territory and having EU citizenship.
"This might indicate an increased number of home-grown terrorists throughout the European Union," the Europol chief concluded.
Security versus fundamental rights
Mr Ratzel was addressing MEPs as new guidelines for combating militant attacks tabled by the European Commission are being discussed by EU institutions.
The document, aimed at updating current rules dating from 2002, foresees public provocation to commit acts of political violence, recruitment as well as training for such acts as part of the list of EU-wide terror offences.
However, the chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Dick Marty, told MEPs that there was "an obvious danger which makes it possible for governments to easily criminalise any type of opposition".
He insisted that the so-called safeguard clause is strengthened in the draft guidelines.
Similar concerns were voiced by French Socialist Roselyne Lefrancois, in charge of the dossier in the European Parliament, arguing "the commission's proposal does not allow us to define sufficiently clearly behaviour that would be incriminated and to meet two objectives - combating terrorism, but also defending human rights and fundamental freedoms".
Ms Lefrancois stressed the need for legal certainty as well as a safeguard clause so that all measures are proportional, necessary and in line with human rights and fundamental freedoms.
"Those are ingredients and yet not present in the commission proposal," the French MEP said.