BRUSSELS (AFP) - The number of young Europeans going to fight alongside extremist groups in Syria and countries such as Somalia and Sudan, is growing and the EU must try to halt it, a senior official said Wednesday.
Youngsters joining up with radical groups such as Al-Qaeda "can pose a threat to our security on their return home from a combat zone," European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said as she unveiled a new programme to tackle the problem.
Traditional law enforcement is not enough and EU member states "have no time to lose" in taking new measures, Ms Malmstroem said. Asked about how many fighters have gone to Syria, she said there were some 1,200 but the number is growing.
Of additional concern, she said, was that "Syria is not the only problem ... it is also happening in Somalia, Sudan for instance."
On Tuesday, President Hollande said 700 people had left France to fight in Syria, a trend he called "worrying".
Ms Malmstroem gave no details of how many fighters were going to these new countries, citing them to highlight the extent of the problem and its growth.
"No country is spared from the scourge of violent extremism. But still far too few EU member states are facing up to this rising threat," Ms Malmstroem said in a statement.
"We need strong, preventive measures to counter extremism in all its forms.
Our aim is to boost ... efforts against radicalisation and extremist violence, and to provide a toolbox for preventive action in Europe," she added.
Among the measures suggested are broadly based national strategies coupled with a European information hub to share experiences in combatting the problem.
The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) should be strengthened, with dis-engagement and de-radicalisation support programmes to members of extremist groups in every EU country.