EU police arrested over 700 terror suspects last year, according to a report released Tuesday. Half of the arrests involved Islamist extremism -- the most dangerous variety of terrorism, the report says.
Europol says it requires extended powers to meet the challenges of the new threat
The cross-border police agency Europol released the report as EU politicians debated proposals to expand the powers of European law enforcement. Presenting the report to the European parliament in Brussels on Tuesday, Europol chief Max-Peter Ratzel made the case for a broader mandate for his organization.
“The mandate is currently limited to organized crime, which means that in each individual case we have to demonstrate a link or connection to local structures before we pass on the data,” Ratzel explained to a parliamentary committee. “In the fields of serial murder, online child pornography or travelling hooligans, local structures are generally not affected, but that is precisely the added value for (EU) member states.”
The EU Commission has already proposed a reform bill to expand Europol’s mandate, and the German Presidency of the European Union has also endorsed the proposal. Ratzel said terrorism is a situation that affects Europe as a whole, and that it was important to share information among the member states in order to “recognize the signs early on and act pre-emptively on dangers.”
But this also earned the Europol chief some criticism from parliamentarians concerned about privacy rights. Agustín Díaz de Mera of the conservative EVP told Ratzel his agency needed to adopt more “democratic transparency.”
Separatists responsible for bulk of EU terrorism
An ETA bomb at Madrid's Barajas International Airport
Ratzel expressed concern about what the Europol report says is a growing threat of terrorism in Europe. Nearly 500 terrorism-related offences were carried out in the 27-nation bloc last year, the report says; however, most of them were carried out by separatists on the French island of Corsica and in the Spanish Basque region.
With 343 arrests last year, France saw the largest amount of terrorist activity. Most attacks took place on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where separatists opposed to French rule have waged a low-intensity war of independence for over three decades.
Most of these attacks only caused property damage, with the notable exception of Basque separatist group ETA’s December 30th bombing of a parking garage at Madrid Barajas International Airport, which killed two people and wounded several dozen more. It was one of 145 attacks in Spain last year, and the group’s first fatal attack since 2003.
Europol says ETA has “rebuilt its capabilities” despite a March 2006 truce with the Spanish government, and is prepared to “strike with well-prepared, organized and coordinated attacks against high-profile targets.” ETA on Sunday stood by the 2006 ceasefire, but said it would resume its armed struggle for Basque independence if Spain did not allow ETA’s banned political wing to participate in local elections in May.
156 people were arrested on terrorism charges in Britain. Europol did not list any terror-related offences for the 10 newest member states, most of them eastern European, that joined the EU in 2004.
Islamist extremism called greatest danger
Islamic terrorism is the most dangerous, the report says
The report says that acts of terrorism motivated by radical Islamic ideologies pose the greatest threat to European security, in part because they aim to maximize human casualties. As examples of Islamic extremism in Europe, the report cites the failed plot to bomb two regional trains in western Germany.
That plot was foiled by fate rather than by the police, as the crude suitcase bombs did not go off due to a technical malfunction. Ratzel also mentions last year’s attempted attack on transatlantic flights from British airports, which was foiled by the authorities at the last minute.
The report says half of the total number of arrests was related to Islamist militants. As examples of terrorist crimes, the police agency lists disseminating terrorist propaganda, financing terrorism, forging documents or providing safe houses for illegal operatives, among others.
“We have to take care that these things don’t further escalate,” Ratzel told the parliamentary committee.