Threats, arrests and tightened security: Counterterrorism measures in Europe

Threats, arrests and tightened security: Counterterrorism measures in Europe
5 min read
20 November, 2015
Analysis: Europe is working vigorously to tighten security and increase border control, amid ongoing threats from extremist groups, as countries adopt new measures to prevent future attacks.
Europe is working vigorously to tighten security and increase border control, amid ongoing threats from extremist groups around the globe.

European Union nations agreed on Friday to immediately tighten checks on all travellers, including European nationals, at the external borders of the passport-free Schengen area.

The European Commission also called for the establishment of an EU-wide intelligence agency.

The latest measures come in the wake of the Paris massacre that left 130 people dead last Friday.

Adding to fears about the global threat of extremist militants, gunmen seized 170 people in a hotel used by foreigners on Friday in the capital of Mali, killing at least three hostages.

Paris turns to the UN

The threat posed by the Islamic State group to the entire international community requires a strong, united and unambiguous response
- France's UN ambassador
Last week's massacre in Paris was the deadliest ever in the country. France turned to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to authorise countries to "take all necessary measures" to fight the Islamic State group after the extremists claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"The exceptional and unprecedented threat posed by this group to the entire international community requires a strong, united and unambiguous response from the Security Council," said Francois Delattre, France's UN ambassador.

France's bid for UN backing came after Russia submitted a revised text of a separate draft resolution, calling for a fight against the IS group with Syria's consent.

The draft was rejected by the United States, Britain and France, who refuse to cooperate with President Bashar al-Assad's regime, accusing him of "fomenting extremism by resorting to brutality".

French President Francois Hollande is due to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and US leader Barack Obama next week for talks aimed at stepping up the campaign against the extremists, who have overrun large areas of Syria and Iraq in a brutal offensive.

Sweden tightens security

Security has also been tightened in Sweden, as authorities interrogate a suspect arrested for plotting a "terror attack".

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told the Swedish daily Expressen that authorities were hunting for more suspects.

Mutar Muthanna Majid, an Iraqi, was arrested by police during a Thursday afternoon raid on a centre for asylum seekers in the northeastern city of Boliden.

Local media said that he was suspected to have fought in Syria and was preparing a "terrorist" attack.

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the country had been "naive" about a risk of an attack on its soil.

"Perhaps it has been difficult for us to accept that there are, in our open society, people, Swedish nationals, who sympathise with the killers and with Islamic State group," Lofven told reporters in Stockholm on Thursday.

He announced a slew of measures aimed at foiling attacks.

One of these included giving security authorities the right to eavesdrop on electronic communications such as Skype and Viber.

Meanwhile, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom sparked anger after stating that the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a factor behind youth radicalisation in the Middle East:

"And once again we return to situations like that in the Middle East, especially [concerning] Palestinians, who think 'there is no future for us, we must accept a desperate situation or resort to violence'."

Her statement was condemned by the Israeli government which summoned the Swedish ambassador "for clarification", an Israeli foreign ministry statement said.

Russia looks to tackle terrorism

Still reeling from the attack on the Russian airliner in Egypt, again claimed by the Islamic State group, where all 224 people on board died, the Russian parliament held an extraordinary meeting on Friday to tackle the issue of terrorism.

Russia and the West have been unable to overcome differences over the future of Bashar al-Assad, with the US and its European and Gulf allies pressing for a clear timetable for the Syrian leader to hand over power.

Sounding a conciliatory note, Moscow's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, indicated that he did not have any objections to the French text, and suggested that the Russian measure could be adopted at a later time.

Churkin recalled that after the September 11, 2001, attacks, there was a first resolution adopted quickly, followed by a broader one, and said "it may well be that we will go down that road again".

Refugees 'should not be punished'

Those who flee this violence should not be punished twice
- UN Deputy Secretary-General
Despite as-yet-unfounded allegations that the Paris attackers had entered the country with Syrian refugees, French President Francois Hollande announced earlier this week that 30,000 refugees would be welcomed in France over the next two years.

"Life should resume fully," Hollande said, adding that the refugees have been the victims of "the same people who attack us today".

The French leader, however, stated that rigorous security checks would be carried out as part of the resettlement process.

The suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had links to Syria - and the discovery of a Syrian passport near the dead body of one of the gunmen - its authenticity still has to be verified - stoked concerns that extremists could be posing as refugees as a cover for plotting attacks.

Abaaoud was thought to have been in Syria - where he had boasted of planning attacks on the West.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls admitted on Thursday that French authorities did not know how he had managed to get into the country, when he was under an international arrest warrant.

But none of the attackers have yet been identified as Syrian nationals.

German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, said he found it hard to believe that the 28-nation EU was "ready to give up our national sovereignty".

"We should concentrate on the improvement of the exchange of information between existing institutions," he said.

During a meeting of the UN General Assembly to discuss the migrant crisis on Thursday, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said: "Those who flee this violence should not be punished twice - first by war or oppressive forces which persecute them at home. And, second, by unjust, dangerous stigma which even shockingly associate the refugees with their attackers."

"The refugees, if any, understand better than anyone the barbaric cruelty of violent extremism," Eliasson said.

"Our most effective response to these attacks is to stand even firmer in our humanistic and humanitarian resolve and ensure openness and protection to those in desperate need."