22nd Oct 2016

Madrid set to boost EU counter-terrorism activities

  • Candles for the 2004 bombings on Madrid's commuter trains. (Photo:

The Spanish EU presidency plans to set up a special unit aimed at sharing counter-terrorism intelligence among member states, according to Spanish media.

El Pais reports that the new body will facilitate the direct exchange of intelligence between two or several member states in close co-operation with the existing special counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, and the EU situation centre – a Brussels-based crisis management unit which includes counter-terrorism activities.

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National counter-terrorism units in Spain, Great Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Portugal support the plan, sources within the Spanish interior ministry told the newspaper.

The EU's new legal framework, the Lisbon Treaty, also enables more co-operation and intelligence sharing in this area.

Europol, the bloc's police co-operation and criminal data exchange body, also gained enhanced powers from 1 January. Its activities touch on terrorism as it manages data on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, cybercrime and Islamist extremism on the web.

The EU's institutional changes come against the backdrop of increased fears of terrorist attacks in European countries, after a failed attempt by Al Qaeda on 25 December to blow up a plane destined for the US, which took off in Amsterdam.

Over the weekend, several Western embassies, among which those of Spain and Great Britain, closed their operations in Yemen, where Al Qaeda had trained the failed terrorist plotter.

Last week an organisation called 'al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula' urged Muslims to help in "killing every crusader who works at their embassies or other places".

On Friday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called an international meeting for 28 January in London on fighting extremism in Yemen.

In this context, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said the EU had to "develop a strategy of prevention to deal with the terrorist threat in Yemen." He added that the London meeting would be a good opportunity for this.

Spain's focus on counter-terrorism comes from its recent trauma in the 11 March 2004 bombings on commuter trains, claimed by Al Qaeda. Some 191 people died and 1,900 were wounded in the attacks.

Great Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands also have their tragic experiences with radical Islamists.

In a recent development, a Somali extremist with alleged ties to Al Qaeda tried to murder a Danish cartoonist who drew controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

According to Danish media, the 28-year old Somali had apparently already been arrested in September in Kenya in connection with an alleged plan to bomb a hotel where the US chief diplomat Hillary Clinton was staying.

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