Interior ministers of the EU’s “big five” countries are meeting to review security amid a backdrop of devastating bombings and fears in Europe that al Qaeda activity is on the rise.
Bombings in the coastal town of Casablanca have fueled fears of international terrorism.
Interior ministers of Germany, France, Spain, Great Britain and Italy are seeking ways to counter the danger posed by international terroris following recent attacks on the Morrocan city of Casablanca on Friday night that killed dozens, including eight Europeans.
In a two-day meeting near the southern Spanish city of Jerez on Sunday, the ministers are discussing plans for intensifying cooperation against international terrorism and illegal immigration.
EU ministers sound alarm bells
After the first day of talks on Sunday, the ministers warned that dormant Islamic terrorist cells could strike at any time.
"No one can say they are excluded or safe from an attempted attack by radical Islamic terrorism and that is exactly why we have to reinforce all our security measures," Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said. Acebes added that the five interior ministers had agreed on setting up a working group to deal with illegal immigration and terrorism and to meet every three months to review progress.
The minister said international cooperation in fighting terrorism was "absolutely indispensable" and "new instruments" within the European Union shouldn’t just lead to better cooperation between police authorities, but also between justices as well as enable a common legislation.
Pisanu said Italy had identified 6,150 potential terrorists targets in his country and added that illegal immigration further complicated the task facing authorities. An estimated 500,000 people pour into the 15-nation European Union illegally each year. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called the war against terror a "war that will be waged in the future."
Al-Qaeda signature on latest attacks?
The meeting of EU interior ministers comes at the end of a week which saw a string of suicide bomb blasts kill 34 in Saudi Arabia and more recently 41 in Morocco, injuring scores.
The attacks, which targeted locations populated by Westerners, have been widely blamed on "international terrorists" with the U.S. suggesting that they bear the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. President Bush issued a "wake-up call" to the world over the weekend, that while al-Qaeda had been weakened by the U.S.-led war on terror it remained a threat.
Both Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Arab kingdoms with historically close ties with Washington, have said local terrorist groups "with international links" are responsible for the attacks. On Sunday, Moroccan Justice Minister Mohamed Bouzoubaa suggested some of the 13 suicide bombers who carried out the carnage in Casablanca, were members of a little-known local group, Assirat al Moustaquim which is sympathetic to al Qaeda. Moroccan police rounded up 33 suspects on Sunday, including some linked to the radical Salafist Jihad group.
Saudi authorities said on Sunday they were seriously probing al Qaeda links to last Monday’s bombings in the capital Riyadh. They also said they had detained four suspected al-Qaeda members who they allege had prior knowledge of the suicide bombings.
German intelligence: Al Qaeda active again
The theory that al Qaeda could be behind the latest wave of suicides attacks has large support among security authorities in Europe, who fear a resurgence of the network.
German interior minister Otto Schily said in a television interview Sunday that he suspected al Qaeda had a hand in the latest bombings. "It’s highly likely, the hallmarks of the attacks in Riyadh and Casablanca all point towards it," he said. Schily also urged a resolved effort to clamp down on terrorism. "Our only chance is not protection, we don’t have that many police anywhere in the world. We must smash these networks and get intelligence in the best form we can."
The German foreign intelligence service (BND) also said in a report on Sunday that the al Qaeda group has regrouped itself and was once again financially in a position to carry out terrorist attacks simultaneously worldwide.
"Support bases and recruiting potential in Saudi Arabia, as well as in Yemen, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are intact," the report said.
German intelligence officials also point out in the report that Osama bin Laden is still alive and lived on the outskirts of Pakistan, though the network is now headed by new younger members. The BND has also warned that the terrorist network was planning attacks in Afghanistan in particular against the multinational peacekeeping force, which includes 2,400 German soldiers.
Western governments issue travel alerts
The warnings about al Qaeda’s possible activities come amid a wave of terror alerts issued by western governments, urging its citizens from travelling to the Middle East and Africa.
The German Foreign Ministry over the weekend advised German nationals against visiting East Africa and Morocco, and asked them to be on high alert if they were visiting Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea. In the past few days Britain has banned flights by British airlines to Kenya and warned its citizens that there is a "clear terrorist threat" in six neighboring East African countries.