EU prosecutor: Close 'prosecution gaps' for terror cases

AP News
Posted: Feb 25, 2015 2:42 PM
EU prosecutor: Close 'prosecution gaps' for terror cases

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The European Union's top criminal prosecutor is calling on member countries to update and harmonize anti-terrorism laws to deal more effectively with the twin threats of European-born participants in Islamic jihad and solitary extremists.

Michele Coninsx, president of Eurojust, the EU's agency for judicial cooperation, told The Associated Press that despite much progress, "we see popping up new prosecution gaps" that could hinder cross-border efforts to combat terrorism.

Coninsx, a career prosecutor and counterterrorism specialist from Belgium, said in an interview Tuesday that among the EU's 28 member nations, laws differ on how to deal with lone participants in terrorist actions, or recruiters also acting alone.

Similarly, she said, EU countries' laws vary on how to treat people traveling to fight with extremist groups in Syria or Iraq, or who have returned from battlefields there. She advocates a single EU-wide definition of "foreign terrorist fighters," which she said would help police and prosecutors from different countries work more seamlessly together.

The Hague-based agency that Coninsx has headed since 2012 was tapped by EU leaders this month to play a greater part in forming a common front against terrorism.

Eurojust, where each EU country is represented by a senior prosecutor or judge, is supposed to step up information-sharing and operational cooperation in the anti-terrorism field, as is its crosstown neighbor in this Dutch city, the EU-wide police agency Europol.

"We should really strive for a common approach because the problem is obviously common," Coninsx said. "It starts locally. It starts nationally, but it doesn't stay there. So we should not only collect information, we should connect information."

Founded in 2002, Eurojust has the mission of strengthening EU coordination in fighting serious cross-border crimes ranging from drug trafficking and corruption to terrorism.

Each EU country is required to designate a counter-terrorism prosecutor to be in contact with Eurojust, and must inform it of all criminal investigations or court actions related to terrorism.

The brazen attacks that killed 17 victims in Paris on Jan. 7-9 and two people in Copenhagen, Denmark on Feb. 14-15 have kept terrorism in Europe's headlines.

But not all countries are equally affected, and informing those that have escaped terrorist attack so far of the risks they run and what to do is also part of Eurojust's role, said Coninsx.

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The goal in Europe should be "not for a scattered system of (national) legislations but for a uniform, homogeneous framework," she told AP.

Another EU-wide objective voiced by Coninsx: focusing law enforcement's efforts on those fighters returning from Syria and Iraq whose ambition is to commit more acts of terrorism, murder or violence, instead of treating all returnees as equally dangerous.

Earlier this week, Europol Director Rob Wainwright said his organization has a database of about 3,000 people who traveled to fight in Syria or Iraq, though he said the true number is likely much higher. He called for "more effective, more systematic cross-border cooperation across Europe."

Coninsx urged EU governments to make use of the resources, experience and contacts Eurojust provides. "The earlier you knock on our door, the quicker we can have a quick response," she said.