Belgians, French meet to improve counterterrorism efforts

AP News
Posted: Feb 01, 2016 3:27 PM
Belgians, French meet to improve counterterrorism efforts

BRUSSELS (AP) — The prime ministers of Belgium and France vowed Monday to reinforce counterterrorism cooperation, with French Premier Manuel Valls warning it is only a matter of time before the next attack by violent extremists against Europeans occurs.

Valls and Belgian counterpart Charles Michel held an extraordinary meeting of high-ranking police, justice and intelligence officials from both countries.

Michel said the session at a country estate in eastern Brussels focused on the current threat posed by IS and other extremist groups, the state of the investigations into the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, lessons to be drawn from that massacre and what bilateral and European Union-wide responses are necessary.

"There is no zero risk," Michel said at a joint news conference, echoing Valls' sober tone. The Belgian leader said all Europe is faced with a "new level of threat" and must adapt swiftly.

"We need to increase our cooperation in all areas: intelligence, justice, police," Valls said.

He also called for decisive action by the 28-nation EU, to which both France and Belgium belong, including swift approval of a system to share airline passenger data, systematic checks on travelers in the visa-less Schengen zone using data submitted by member countries according to uniform standards, and creation of an EU border guard service.

Michel said high-tech ways must be found to foil the current ability of extremists to plot in secret through the use of Internet encryption, and similarly, that biometrics should be employed to thwart the forged passports or other fake travel documents they can often obtain.

The attacks carried out in Paris were staged from Belgium, and suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud lived in Brussels. Following that carnage, skepticism was voiced in France about how zealously Belgian law enforcement had been pursuing suspected Islamic radicals.

Valls tried to diminish such doubts, saying "once again, Belgium and France are together."