European Union to launch anti-terror projects with Arab nations, Turkey

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union said Monday it will launch anti-terror projects with Muslim nations and boost intelligence sharing following the Paris attacks, as anger over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons fed fresh protests and violence.

Foreign ministers meeting in the shadow of the Islamist attacks and a wave of arrests across Europe agreed on the need to work with Arab nations and Turkey in particular to counter the growing threat.

After talks in Brussels with the Arab League chief and European ministers, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that “probably for the first time there was real deep awareness of the need to work together.”

“We are looking at specific projects to launch in the coming weeks with some specific countries to increase the level of cooperation on counter-terrorism, and I would name Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and the Gulf countries,” she said.

The bloc will also post security attaches at its embassies in key Muslim nations to boost cooperation, as well as increasing its Arabic language capacity to try to counter Islamist propaganda, she said. She said there was a need to “share intelligence information not only with the EU but also with other countries around us.” 

Nabil Al-Arabi, the Arab League secretary general, said earlier that “every country in the world is suffering from terrorism.”

“It is not just a military or security issue, it covers the intellectual, cultural, media and religious spheres and that is what we are trying to get,” he said.

Europe is on high alert after three French gunmen killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris earlier this month, claiming they were acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. Two suspected militants were also killed in a police raid in Belgium on Thursday and a huge security sweep across Europe resulted in dozens of arrests in Germany, Greece and France.

The EU meeting Monday was to prepare for a special European summit on Feb12 dedicated to fighting terrorism. Many of the ministers will meet again on Thursday in London when US Secretary of State John Kerry co-hosts talks with some 20 countries, including Arab states. But so far many EU states have been reluctant to open up their intelligence networks to anyone except their most trusted allies for fear of harmful leaks, let alone with the Arab world.

Mogherini said the ministers urged the European Parliament to stop holding up a system for exchanging air passenger information – backed by many states as a key tool in tracking militant suspects, but loathed by lawmakers due to concerns over civil liberties.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the Paris attacks had “changed Europe and the world” and called for “possibly increased exchanges with Muslim countries".

His British counterpart Philip Hammond made the same point and pressed the need for progress on the passenger data system. Belgian authorities meanwhile were still hunting for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the brains behind an Islamist cell plotting to kill Belgian police that was broken up last week.

Greek prosecutors were considering a Belgian extradition request for a suspect arrested in Athens on Saturday who could be linked to the cell. In Germany, police banned a rally by the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement in the eastern city of Dresden after a reported threat from ISIS on the movement’s leader Lutz Bachmann.

But in the Muslim world anger still raged at the publication of a new Prophet Mohammed cartoon on the front of Charlie Hebdo’s comeback issue last week. Russia’s interior ministry claimed 800,000 people had flooded into Grozny, the capital of the Muslim province of Chechnya – three-quarters of the republic’s population – to demonstrate.

In Niger, 10 people were killed in two days of protests against the cartoons, while dozens of churches were torched at the weekend. More than 2,000 Iranians meanwhile protested Monday outside the French embassy in Tehran, chanting “Death to France” and urging the ambassador be expelled.