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EU and Balkan countries 'tackling jihadism together'

The EU and Balkan countries have launched a campaign aimed at stemming the flow of fighters from southeastern Europe to join jihadists in the Middle East. At least 3,000 fighters have left Europe for Syria so far.

"Foreign fighters represent a significant threat to regional and to European security. We have a shared interest in preventing and countering the influx of European-born violent extremists into Syria, Iraq and elsewhere," European Commissioner for Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement released on his website.

Interior and foreign ministers from across the Balkans attended the conference "Tackling Jihadism Together," hosted by Austria, to work with western European officials to crack down "a growing threat."

The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen underscore the sense of urgency about this treat, Avramopoulos told the conference. But Reuters news agency reported that the commissioner declined to specify particular "hotspots" for jihadists in the Balkans.

"We discussed how to improve regional cooperation, information sharing and closer cooperation with EU agencies," Avramopoulos said, before promising that the commission is fully committed to the EU's "Western Balkan Counter-Terrorism initiative."

Cooperating with Google

Steps promoted at the Vienna conference included communicating basic rights more effectively, and working with companies like Facebook and Google to remove extremist material from the web. The ministers also wanted joint training for border guards, more effective sharing of resources from Europol, and a new counter-terrorism network set up last year.

"Fighting this problem will take time and we can only do it together," Avramopoulos said.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic stressed said "the problem went beyond the Balkans." He pointed out that during his six years as interior minister, the problem of radical Islamism in Vienna and Salzburg were well known.

At least 3,000 foreign fighters are believed to have left Europe for Syria and Iraq. European police forces are making new arrests nearly every week as people attempt to travel there.

This week a 16-year old Austrian turned himself in to the police after arriving home wounded from a stint with Islamic State fighters in Syria.

jil/bk (Reuters/EU)