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Paris attacks: EU ministers to move to cinch Schengen

The EU will tighten checks at the Schengen zone's external borders. The increased security measures will also apply to EU citizens who would normally enjoy free movement within the nominally passport-free Schengen Area.

At an emergency meeting on Friday, EU interior and justice ministers will "immediately implement the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement," news agencies report. The new measures would also check names against criminal and security databases.

French officials requested the Schengen clampdown after

attacks in Paris

left 129 people dead and hundreds wounded. Before dying Wednesday,

suspected mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud

had boasted of being able to move freely between Syria, where he is thought to have trained with the "Islamic State" (IS), and his native Belgium.

Citizens move freely within the 26-nation Schengen Zone, which includes most of the EU, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway. The UK and Ireland have opted out of Schengen membership. Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria will join once the European Union deems them ready to do so.

'Mini-Schengen'

Ministers also plan to discuss other security measures at Friday's meeting. The European Union plans to crack down on virtual currencies and anonymous payments made online and via prepaid cards in a bid to tackle terror financing, Reuters reports.

The draft urges stepped-up intelligence sharing, stricter firearms rules, and new measures against EU citizens who join combat groups abroad and then come back to Europe. Ministers will call for airlines to share passenger data, which EU lawmakers have long opposed on privacy grounds, and pledge "systematic registration, including fingerprinting, of all migrants entering into the Schengen area."

Most EU officials defend Schengen as the most ambitious achievement of European integration, in spite of criticism though some say recent events show that it has failed. The Netherlands wants a "mini-Schengen" to introduce passport checks at the borders of several Western European states. German officials did not appear enthusiastic about such an idea, and the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, had received no formal proposals to shrink Schengen, but the topic could come up in Friday's meeting.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann

told EU leaders to resist calls to close borders within the zone. He said that "would be the end of Schengen and the European idea."

EU Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos appeared cool toward fiddling with a protocol. "Schengen is not the problem," he said Wednesday. "If we make full use of the tools given us by Schengen... our external borders will be protected in a more efficient way."

EU-wide measures would supplement a new

security crackdown pledged by Belgium

and

an extended state of emergency

sought by Prime Minister Manuel Valls in France.

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mkg/jil (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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