European Union lays out strategy to combat foreign fighters
AFP/Louisa Gouliamaki
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BRUSSELS: The European Union will do more to stop citizens going to fight as insurgents in Syria and Iraq but resist calls for sweeping pan-European powers to fight threats after the militant attacks in Paris and police raids in Belgium, officials said on Friday.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will seek a strategy to deal with young Muslims heading to Middle East war zones or returning radicalized from the region. They plan talks with the secretary-general of the Cairo-based Arab League, Nabil El-Araby, as well as the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator.

Other priorities to be tackled at a Jan. 29-30 gathering will include a crackdown on arms trafficking, better sharing of airline passenger data, trying to prevent EU citizens leaving to fight abroad, and seeking to curb radical Islam on the Internet to discourage EU citizens from bringing violence back home.

Ministers are also considering a plan to withdraw the travel documents and identity cards of any EU citizen planning to go to Syria or Iraq or considered to represent a public threat in Europe, an initiative supported by the European Commission.

The rules underpinning the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, which removes border controls among most EU countries, could be used to empower guards on external borders of the zone to undertake systematic checks of EU citizens arriving from a third country to stop suspected jihadist militants.

Schengen rules have also recently been changed to make it possible to temporarily reintroduce checks at internal borders.

The ideas will then be taken up by EU government leaders at a two-day summit on Feb. 12-13 in Brussels, where concrete steps could be taken, but the Commission cautioned it is not planning a host of new, pan-EU security legislation.

“The European Union is seeking to minimize the risks posed by terrorism in Syria and Iraq,” said an EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Clearly the Charlie Hebdo shootings have galvanized everyone to act,” the diplomat said, referring to the Jan. 7 assault on the French satirical journal.

Anthony Dworkin, a human rights expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, said EU officials were right to focus on improving coordination among agencies and across borders, rather than seeking new legislation.

“The wider call for more sweeping powers to combat the terrorist threat seems driven first of all by a political desire to be seen to be taking action. Measures adopted in haste are likely to lead to over-reaching and may prove less effective than better coordination and application of existing procedures,” Dworkin said.

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