Member states to take action against growing extremist threat
The European Commission has called on member states to do more to combat violent extremism. In a discussion paper issued yesterday (15 January), the Commission says that national authorities should develop ‘exit strategies’ to assist those who want to leave radical groups; work more closely with foreign governments to counter the threat from such groups; and curb radical propaganda online. The recommendations build on two years’ worth of discussion by hundreds of experts.
In presenting the paper, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, spoke of “a growing extremist threat which has mutated and evolved in the last few years, spreading across our continent”. She called on member states to take action on the ten recommendations in its paper as soon as possible. “We have no time to lose,” she said. She cited violence inspired by nationalist, al-Qaeda, left-wing and right-wing ideologies.
European intelligence services are especially concerned by the civil war in Syria, with its increasingly sectarian overtones. It has acted as a powerful recruitment agent for young Muslims from Europe who feel that the West has done nothing to protect civilians against violence by the regime, a mood that has been exploited by radicals who have hijacked the rebellion.
The authorities in many member states fear that European Union citizens fighting in Syria – many of whom come from immigrant backgrounds – could pose a security threat on their return home, both because they have been radicalised and because of the specialist knowledge, for example on explosives, that they may acquire there. The largest number of EU nationals fighting in Syria – amounting to several hundred from each – are thought to come from France, Germany, the UK and Belgium.
On the day of Malmström’s comments, the Wall Street Journal reported that European intelligence services had resumed information-sharing with Damascus. It said that a spokesman for Spain’s domestic intelligence agency had confirmed that the Spanish authorities were passing on information about Spanish citizens fighting in Syria to the Syrian regime. “It is normal that intelligence services of member states take various contacts to address this issue,” Malmström said when asked about intelligence co-operation with Syria. “Precisely how that is done is not up to me to comment.”