WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Department lawyers are coordinating with foreign governments in North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East to deal with the problems posed by foreign fighters flowing to the conflict in Syria, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday following meetings with European Union ministers.
The goal is to aid those countries in bringing criminal prosecutions against individuals who return from Syria and ensure that they have the appropriate statutes to do so, such as one routinely used by federal prosecutors in the United States that makes it a crime to provide support to terrorist organizations, Holder said at a press conference.
"Our goal in all of these efforts is to build the capacity to fight foreign terrorist fighters within the rule of law so we can stop the stop the flow of fighters ... and aggressively combat violent extremism," Holder said.
The department has for years maintained an overseas presence, including prosecutors who work on extradition and national security investigations, as well as lawyers who act as legal advisers in countries that have sought help from the U.S. on legislation and other matters.
Though they've already undertaken this effort, Holder disclosed Thursday how the department's lawyers have been working in more than a dozen countries in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East to help them develop a legal framework for terror prosecutions. Justice Department officials say they're coordinating with the European Union about what countries to focus their efforts on.
The plans discussed include the assignment of a regional counterterrorism adviser in the Balkans, and a Justice Department prosecutor will also be stationed in Malta to focus on counterterrorism programs.
Western officials have for months expressed concern about citizens traveling to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State, fearing they could be trained in terrorist tactics that could be implemented if they returned to their home countries. A new United Nations report says the challenge has reached an "unprecedented scale," with about 15,000 foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq alone.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Thursday that the United States and coalition forces were making progress in the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, but that the struggle will be long and difficult.
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