France Says Risk of Jihadist Attack in Europe is Real


The threat of an attack by Islamist militants in Europe is "real" and EU countries must all remain mobilized to counter it, France's interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned Friday.

His remarks came amid signs that the number of jihadists leaving Europe to fight in Iraq and Syria continued to increase, raising concerns that some will return to their home countries battle hardened and ready to carry out attacks. 

"There are risks which are real today and which require a general mobilization," Cazeneuve said after a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels to discuss the threat posed by foreign fighters. 

A European official presented the threat in even starker terms, telling Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity that "an attack on European territory is very likely."

Another European source added: "The motives to join the jihad will continue as long as the conflict in Syria and Iraq lasts."

Cazeneuve said that in France the number of people involved in the jihadist network has jumped by 89 percent since the beginning of the year.

Some 1,150 French citizens are part of the network, including 300 to 350 on the ground, more than 50 who have died and some 200 who have returned to France. The remainder of the network involves recruiters and supporters.

The Europe Union's counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove said the number of Europeans joining Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq is around 3,000.

De Kerchove said security officials fear not so much a large-scale, coordinated attack like that of September 11, 2001 in the United States, but something more like the one at the Jewish museum in Brussels that killed four people in May.

"Each country works on foiling attacks on its territory," Cazeneuve said. 

"We do it in France. There are operations, arrests ...every day to avoid it happening," he said.

"I'm used to saying that zero precautions amount to 100 percent risk, but 100 percent precautions do not reduce the risk to zero."

The French parliament last month adopted a counter-terrorism law which bans people from leaving the country if they are suspected of trying to wage jihad in Syria.

Cazeneuve, like de Kerchove, supports other measures to fight the problem of foreign fighters.

Though long rejected by the European Parliament, one idea is to agree a European Passenger Name Record (PNR) system, enabling countries to swap data on all airline passengers that notably could help trace would-be militants.

"We need a compromise. We must better incorporate the concerns of parliament, which are legitimate concerning the protection of personal data," Cazeneuve said.

"Once guarantees are given on protecting data, the European parliament must in return accept the idea that fighting terrorism without the European PNR is a lot more difficult than if we have all the tools to do it," he said.

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