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POLICE

New European police centre to fight terrorism

A new European counter-terrorism centre opening this month will improve information-sharing among national police forces whose performance is under scrutiny after the jihadist attacks in Paris in November, the director of Europol has told AFP.

New European police centre to fight terrorism
Europol director Rob Wainwright. Photo: Martijn Beekman /ANP/AFP
“It establishes for the first time in Europe a dedicated operation centre,” Britain's Rob Wainwright said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
 
“It will provide French and Belgian police services and their counterparts around Europe with the platform they need to share information more quickly and to crack down on the terrorist groups that are active.”
 
Although the creation of the centre was announced seven months before the Paris attacks, the coordinated shootings and suicide bombings in the French capital by a team mainly based in neighboring Belgium have given the 28-country project new impetus.
 
“We will be working to improve intelligence sharing and to maximize our capability to track terrorist financing,” Wainwright said.
 
The centre at Europol's headquarters in the Hague will also monitor the way in which Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups “are abusing the Internet and social media, in particular for their propaganda and recruitment purposes,” he added.
 
French investigators believe the attacks that killed 130 in Paris were planned by a Belgian national, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was widely thought to have been in Syria fighting with IS forces.
 
The apparent ease in which Abaaoud slipped back into Europe and moved around the continent has thrown into question the intelligence-sharing capabilities of EU police forces.
 
Wainwright said the attacks had already acted as a catalyst.
 
“In the context of what happened after the attacks in Paris, France and Belgium have established an extremely close working relationship involving Europol,” he said.
 
“What I have seen over the last few years but particularly in the last year, in the face of the worst terrorist attacks we have seen in Europe for over a decade, is intensified cooperation.”
 
–Significant growth in fake ID–
 
Wainwright said he was deeply concerned about the “significant growth” in the faking of ID documents for use by extremists.
 
Investigators believe at least two of the Paris suicide bombers entered Europe through Greece, posing as migrants and using Syrian passports that were not theirs. Their true identity remains unknown.
 
The Europol chief said national police forces needed to have better access to a database compiled by its international counterpart, Interpol, of stolen and fake documents.
 
“There are many criminal actors that have become more active, more sophisticated and also the quality of the faked documents they are providing (has improved), and they responded to the opportunities that the migration crisis in 2015 gave us,” he said.
 
“So we need to make sure that our border guard officials are alive to that threat, that they are better trained, of course, and to make sure that there is access to the right databases, including the dedicated database that Interpol has on lost and stolen documents.”

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TERRORISM

Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

Four suspected members or sympathisers of the Islamic State group have been detained in Germany and Switzerland in a cross-border operation, prosecutors from the two countries said Tuesday.

Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

In Switzerland, three people were picked up in the cantons of Zurich, Sankt Gallen and Lucerne, national authorities said, adding that seven further searches were also carried out.

The suspects, whose identities were not released, are accused of “participation in or support for the outlawed organisation Islamic State”.

In Germany, a man was detained in the western town of Roemerberg, federal prosecutors said.

Identified only as Aleem N., he is “strongly suspected of preparing a serious violent attack threatening the security of the state and of belonging to a foreign terrorist organisation”.

He is believed to have attempted to travel from Germany via Turkey to Syria in September 2020.

“In Syria, the suspect wanted to join the foreign terrorist organisation Islamic State, attain military training and then take part in combat or terrorist attacks,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

However, Aleem N. was unable to reach Syria for reasons that were not immediately clear and returned to Germany.

“At the latest in April 2021 he joined Isis in Germany and carried out vast propaganda activities for the group,” prosecutors said.

His duties included “mainly translating official texts, videos and audio messages by Isis from Arabic into German and distributing them on various Telegram channels in German-speaking areas”.

“Isis considered such activities to be equivalent to taking part directly in violent jihad,” it added.

The suspect is also believed to have taken part in a telephone conversation with Isis leaders in late 2021 to “verify his reliability” before travelling to “IS zones of operation”.

However, “a further attempt” to reach Syria in January 2022 “failed again”.

Aleem N. was to appear on Tuesday before a federal judge who will decide whether to remand him in custody.

German intelligence services estimate that more than 1,150 people have travelled from Germany to Iraq and Syria since 2011 for Islamist reasons.

More than a third have since returned to Germany, while at least 270 have been killed in Iraq or Syria.

“A low three-digit-number” are currently detained in the two countries, according to the intelligence services’ 2021 report.

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