Sunday 24 September 2017

France seeks European Union help to halt flow of extremists

French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande

France has called on its European Union partners to take immediate and decisive action to toughen the bloc's borders and prevent the entry of more violent extremists.

"We can't take more time. This is urgent," interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

One week after the co-ordinated attacks claimed by Islamic State that killed 129 people in Paris, Mr Cazeneuve and the other EU interior and justice ministers opened an emergency meeting on the next steps to prevent more bloodshed.

France and Belgium are expected to urge their EU partners to tighten gun laws, toughen border security and choke off funds to extremist groups.

"Terrorists are crossing the borders of the European Union," said Mr Cazeneuve, underlining why the 28-nation bloc must move forward on a long-delayed system for collecting and exchanging airline passenger information. That system would allow the EU to better track extremists and foreign fighters coming and going from Syria and Iraq, he said.

UK Home Secretary Theresa May said the EU must quickly implement beefed-up border security measures already agreed on, saying there was a clear link between tightened borders and the safety of Europeans.

Ministers are not expected to order any new measures that could be immediately introduced. Documents prepared for the meeting indicate the ministers will try to push forward on priorities already identified, but not acted on, by EU leaders following an earlier round of lethal attacks in Paris on a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery in January.

The narrative provided by French officials on the brazen and carefully co-ordinated attacks a week ago on France's national stadium and Paris cafes, restaurants and a theatre raises disturbing questions about how a wanted militant already suspected of involvement in multiple plots could slip into Europe undetected.

French investigators quickly identified Belgian-born Abdelhamid Abaaoud as the architect of the attacks in Paris, but believed he had co-ordinated the assaults from the battlefields of Syria.

That situation changed drastically on Monday when France received a tip from a non-European country that Abaaoud had slipped back into Europe through Greece, Mr Cazeneuve said Thursday.

How and when Abaaoud entered France before his death remained unclear. He had bragged in the Islamic State group's English-language magazine that he was able to move in and out of Europe undetected.

As it turned out, not only was Abaaoud in Europe, but right under the noses of French investigators, a 15-minute walk from the Stade de France stadium where three suicide bombers blew themselves up during the November 13 attacks that also wounded hundreds.

Next week President Francois Hollande is going to Washington and Moscow to push for a stronger international coalition against IS. French military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said French forces have destroyed 35 Islamic State targets in Syria since the attacks on Paris.

Belgian authorities have released seven people detained on Thursday, but continued to hold one person suspected of links to the Paris attacks and another linked to stadium bomber Bilal Hadfi but not directly to the Paris assault.

Press Association

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