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Terrorism: EU anti-terror czar: ‘The threat is coming from inside Europe’ – by Frédéric Simon

A year after the Brussels attacks, Gilles de Kerchove told about the fast pace of development of EU security policy, calling for the “systematic use of biometrics” and “batch comparison” of databases in order to boost security in the Schengen area.

Gilles de Kerchove is the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator. He spoke to EURACTIV’s publisher and editor, Frédéric Simon.

On 22 March, Belgium commemorates the anniversary of the Brussels terrorist attacks. As a Belgian national, were you surprised when the attacks took place?

Surprised, no, because, for years, we were aware of the determination of Daesh to strike in Europe. We already had the attacks in Paris and we knew some of the authors were still at large, and that a strike in Brussels was among the possibilities. I was very sad that we were not able to prevent this from happening, but not surprised.

Did this happen because national intelligence agencies weren’t collaborating enough?

I really don’t want to answer that question specifically because there is a Parliamentary inquiry committee that has not finalised its conclusions. It’s probably more interesting to see what those conclusions will be.

Over the last two years, we have been working in many directions and information sharing among security services is only one aspect. It’s a set of measures on the preventive side, on the repressive side, and closer work with some neighbourhoods.

So I think it would be inaccurate to say that the attacks took place just because the security services are not sharing—they do. That’s not the issue. The problem is not necessarily a lack of data, but the ability to analyse the data properly. There is a lot of work on the issue of data collection, data sharing and data analysis. We’ve been working hard on this, but it’s not the only issue.

Did the Belgian authorities bury their heads in the sand regarding information they had about neighbourhoods like Molenbeek?

It’s up to the special inquiry committee to draw conclusions. Molenbeek is not the epicentre of terrorism in Europe. If you look at our neighbours, the French have had more than 1,000 of their citizens or legal residents who left for Syria and Iraq.

In ten to fifteen EU member states, there is indeed an issue of young Europeans who get radicalised, who were attracted by the rhetoric of Daesh, and the crisis in Syria. The fact that there was a civil war, a caliphate, added something new. We had foreign terrorist fighters in the ’90s in Afghanistan but never on that scale. Why? Because there was this much more aggressive use of the Internet, and the control of a territory, which seems to be more attractive than the Sahel.

Of course, Molenbeek in itself raises difficult questions as to the integration process of immigrants, the fight against discrimination, the fight against Islamophobia, but that begs the question about the drivers of radicalisation. To simply equal Molenbeek and terrorism is a bit too short, I think.

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