Europe wants german cooperation on anti terrorism
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Europe gropes for joint anti-terrorism response
Wed Jul 20, 2005 11:14 AM ET
By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent
LONDON (Reuters) - Bombings that killed at least 56 people in London have pushed security back to the top of Europe's political agenda but glaring gaps remain in anti-terrorist cooperation across the continent.
Since the suspected al Qaeda-inspired attacks on London on July 7, governments have rushed to propose new measures in Britain, Italy and Germany, where security will rank as a major issue in campaigning for elections expected in September.
But despite a flurry of national moves and a push for new European Union initiatives on terrorist financing and storage of phone and Internet records, the problems are plain to see.
In a rude reminder of the limits on cooperation, a German court this week blocked the extradition to Spain of a suspected al Qaeda financier investigated by Germany and the United States for links to the Hamburg cell that led the Sept. 11 attacks.
It said the basis for handing him over -- an EU arrest warrant -- was an instrument not properly incorporated into German law.
Some politicians believe the shock of the London attacks will restore momentum for tighter laws and better cooperation, which had faded since last year's Madrid bombings, and shift the balance in a hard-fought debate over freedom versus security.
"I think that everything will change within Europe after the London bombings. Madrid was seen as a one-off, but now we see this is happening again," said Cecilia Wikstrom, a Swedish liberal member of parliament who even before the London attacks was arguing that EU anti-terrorism cooperation had stalled.
"Within the European Union we have to cooperate. We have to have the same kind of terrorism laws."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, European governments -- some of which previously lacked specific anti-terrorism laws -- have passed new legislation, for example to enable prosecutions of people who are members of foreign militant groups.
But Europe's record in convicting terrorist suspects in trials has been poor. Within the past four months, prosecutions have failed in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, and just one of nine defendants in Britain's biggest case since 9/11 was found guilty of a plot involving poisons and bombs. Now some countries want to tighten laws further.
British interior minister Charles Clarke on Wednesday outlined plans in parliament to create three new criminal offences: "acts preparatory to terrorism"; "indirect incitement to terrorism" - including by glorifying and condoning terrorist acts; and giving and receiving terrorist training.
In Germany, both the Social Democrat-led government and the opposition Christian Democrats, who hold a commanding pre-election lead in opinion polls, have called for foreign terrorist suspects to be jailed on suspicion if they cannot be deported because of the risk of torture in their home countries.
Italy is looking at moves to extend the time suspects can be held without charge and to allow them to be questioned initially without a lawyer being present.
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But some are skeptical whether the political response will translate into improvements in critical areas such as intelligence, where spy agencies are unwilling to pool their classified information in a huge bloc of 25 EU countries.
"After Madrid, people were talking about all the things that need to be done, and nothing happened," said former CIA official Nick Pratt, a terrorism expert at the Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany.
"I think you may end up seeing the same sorts of things after the bombing in the UK. There's always an outpouring of emotion ... and then everything sort of ebbs and goes back to business as usual."
He said some domestic security services had yet to accept the need for intrusive surveillance of Muslim communities, including in and around mosques.
"Some ... are very reticent to actually go in and put up real surveillance of a holy place," Pratt said.
On a Europe-wide basis, he said, there was a need to shadow suspects much more effectively as they move across borders.
Even in their approach to basic tools like security cameras in public places, European governments differ widely.
Such cameras, ubiquitous in British cities, have played a key role in the London bomb probe, where police identified the four suspects after viewing footage from thousands of tapes.
But they are not widely used in Sweden or in Germany, where privacy campaigners have portrayed them as an intrusive and disproportionate surveillance tool.
"This must change," said Wikstrom, the Swedish MP. "It's out of the question we can go on pretending we're a sort of neutral zone for terrorism. We're not any more."