EU shapes anti-terror plan
In a wide-ranging series of proposals, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain also agreed to share research into explosives, particularly liquid explosives, and intensify the fight against human trafficking.
At the same time, the European Union in Brussels launched a bloc-wide anti-terror project aimed at curbing terrorist financing, probing the causes of violent radicalisation and protecting key infrastructure from attacks.
Closer co-operation was the message from law and order ministers emerging from the talks over the last two days at a hotel in central England.
The so-called G6 said close contact work between all 25 EU members was needed to “pre-empt the next terrorist attacks by agreeing action to identify developing threats and recommending appropriate responses”.
Improved co-operation in monitoring and analysing Internet use by radicals was also required, to make what British Home Secretary John Reid called “a more hostile operating environment for terrorists”.
“They use the Internet not only to plan their operations but also to spread their propaganda,” Mr Reid said.
On explosives, the countries agreed to share current research, in particular the new and emerging threat from liquid explosives.
Liquid explosives concealed in drinks bottles are believed by British police to have been at the heart of an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic passenger jets in August.
The alleged conspiracy was foiled, leading to dozens of arrests and charges, but had it succeeded, police at the time said it would have caused “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”.
Mr Reid said: “This is a developing area where the terrorists try to get ahead of us and we try to get ahead of them.”
He declined to go into detail on another key pledge — to improve the detection of liquid explosives at airports, and research into them.
But any beefed-up screening at airports would have to be balanced against causing passengers too much intrusion and inconvenience, he added.
At the same time as the EU’s executive arm was announcing efforts to tackle terrorist financing as part of a multi-million-euro scheme, the G6 ministers vowed to clamp down on so-called “carousel fraud”.
The scam involves criminal gangs skimming off sales value added tax (VAT) payments by importing and exporting batches of mobiles telephones, computer chips and other high-value merchandise across the EU bloc.
Mr Reid said it was difficult to be sure whether terrorist groups were using such scams but on historical evidence, he said he would not be surprised if they did use such techniques to fund their campaigns.
In 2004-2005, the practice is said to have cost an estimated £1.1 billion to
£1.9 billion ($2.1-3.6 billion dollars) in stolen VAT in Britain alone.
On people smuggling, the ministers agreed a new pan-European project, closely modelled on a scheme that operated across Britain and Ireland earlier this year which saw 84 illegal immigrants, including 12 girls aged 14 to 17, rescued from the sex trade.
Operation Pentameter saw 232 people arrested and 132 charged with offences including rape, assault, trafficking, money laundering and false imprisonment.
The talks are timely with the spotlight across Europe increasingly on integration, particularly of Muslims — amid rows over wearing the Muslim veil — and a slew of cases in Britain under anti-terrorism laws.
The ministers sought to engage Muslim minorities in the fight against extremism, seeking to counter their growing sense of alienation and anger at their treatment by the authorities.