EU ministers beef up anti-terror measures

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2015 1:59 PM
EU ministers beef up anti-terror measures

BRUSSELS (AP) — European countries agreed Thursday to begin giving extra scrutiny this summer to travelers who meet criteria indicating they could be terrorists or Muslim foreign fighters.

The decision, taken at a meeting of EU interior ministers, was announced by Rihards Kozlovskis, Latvia's interior minister, who chaired the session.

EU officials said the decision, to go into effect in June, will apply throughout the 26-nation Schengen area, to which 22 EU member states belong.

Kozlovskis said the "risk indicators" to be used to single out travelers and their documents for intensive examination are still being drafted by EU officials and member countries.

Asked whether they will include a person's appearance, religion or the books he or she is carrying, the Latvian official declined to give details, but made clear that Europeans traveling to take part in the combat being waged by extremist Islamic groups in Iraq and Syria are the No. 1 target of the measure.

"The number of foreign fighters, unfortunately, keeps increasing quite dramatically," Kozlovskis said. "We have to do something to limit the movement of such persons. Unfortunately they are EU citizens, mostly."

Bloc officials have said the criteria employed to flag travelers probably will not involve ethnic origin or related factors, such as which airline passengers order special meals meeting religious dietary restrictions, but would include their destination or complete itinerary.

Also in the counterterrorism field, the EU ministers ordered the creation in July of a special unit inside Europol, the bloc's agency for police cooperation, that will work with Internet service providers to eliminate pro-terrorist or other extremist content from websites and social media.

The EU made fighting terrorism a top priority after the Jan. 7-9 attacks in Paris that claimed 17 victims. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who represented his country's government at Thursday's meeting in Brussels, urged decisive and speedy action.

"Today the fight against terrorism is a fight against time," Cazeneuve told reporters. "It's a fight against the clock. And each minute we lose by procrastinating is an additional opportunity that we give to the terrorists to strike."

Kozlovskis also stressed the need for concerted action, saying, "we can't just sit back and wait till the next strike happens."

According to one estimate, some 4,000 Europeans have left to fight alongside radical Muslim formations in Syria and Iraq since October. EU goverments want to prevent them from departing, and also catch them if they return home with the intent of staging terrorist attacks on their home soil.

Ministers also discussed how their nations could better share information in the terrorism area and stem the illegal trafficking in firearms. At a closing press conference, Kozlovskis said the meeting also considered a proposal that everyone entering or leaving the Schengen area should have their passports checked electronically against databases, but no follow-up action was taken.

In 2014, an estimated 564 million travelers entered or left the Schengen zone, inside which people can move freely from country to country without immigration or customs controls.