Confusion over returning European jihadis

Published on 30 September 2014 at 07:43

The conflict with the Islamic State is “jolting the process” among EU member states to reach an agreement on countering the threat of attacks from European citizens returning from Syria and Iraq, writes The Guardian.

The daily reports that interior ministers of the 28 member states will meet in Luxembourg in mid-October, along with “executives from the big social media providers, including Twitter, Facebook and Google”, in hopes of firming up measures they’ve been debating for the past 18 months —

Various schemes are under discussion, most notably an EU-wide Passenger Names Record (PNR) for all air travel within the EU supplying up to 15 parameters that are mixed in a computer algorithm to help identify suspects. The scheme is opposed in the European parliament on civil liberties grounds as it would monitor millions of ordinary travellers. […] Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, has also been urging more rigorous screening of all passports and ID cards at airports [but] the proposal was also opposed on the grounds that it would cause massive queues. A police database known as SIS or Schengen Information System is also available as a tool for flagging up suspicious travellers and identities that have been entered into the system. The intelligence services […] are wary, however, of contributing information to this system for fear of compromising their material, thus rendering it less effective.

An investigation in French daily Libération shows how relations and communications with non-EU countries also impact the returns of suspects. The paper recounts the “incredible failure” by which three suspected French jihadists – one of whom is the brother-in-law of Mohammed Merah – were arrested in Turkey after leaving Syria, only to be extradited to the wrong airport. As intelligence services waited at Orly airport in the Paris region, the trio landed in Marseille, from which they freely returned home to Toulouse, where they turned themselves in, “knowing they would be sought.” According to Libération, disagreements at the Turkish airport led authorities to switch planes “at the last minute” —

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The problem is that the Turkish border police did not report the change in strategy to its intelligence services, which in turn were not in capacity to alert the coordinating officer of the DGSI [French intelligence service] at the French embassy in Ankara. Which is to say little of how the blunder raised the ire of [French] Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

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