Will Border Security Solve Europe’s Terror Threat?

France and Germany have called for much stronger external border security following recent terror attacks in Europe. Experts say, however, that such measures alone are unlikely to solve the problem. The spate of attacks began in Paris on October 16, when teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by Chechen teenager Abdullakh Anzorov after Paty showed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of speech. Less than two weeks later, three people were fatally stabbed in a church in the French city of Nice. The suspect, 29-year-old Brahim Aouissaoui, had arrived from Tunisia as a migrant via Italy just weeks earlier. On November 2, Islamic State sympathizer Kujtim Fejzulai shot and killed four people in Vienna. IS described Fejzulai as a “caliphate soldier.”  The leaders of France and Austria met Tuesday in Paris to discuss a coordinated response to the attacks. They were joined by video by the leaders of Germany, the Netherlands and several top European Union officials.  France and Germany called for much tighter security on the border of Europe’s passport-free travel area known as the Schengen zone. FILE – A street sign marks the beginning of Schengen zone, Luxembourg, Jan. 27, 2016.”It’s not about reducing or cutting down the right to asylum. But it’s clearly about implementing it fully and fighting the pathways to misappropriate it, and to better protect our common exterior borders,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a press conference following the meeting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed those calls.  “This is vitally necessary to know who comes in and who leaves the Schengen area,” she said. “And I am campaigning for us to speak with Islamic countries over the fight — the mutual fight — against terrorism and to seek contact with these countries. … We will continue on this path so that we can tackle the fight against terrorism in a societal way and not just punitively,” Merkel added. The terrorists in Nice and Vienna had moved freely between Schengen countries. Securing the external border will not necessarily solve the problem, said terror analyst Raffaello Pantucci, an associate senior fellow at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute. “As we’ve seen repeatedly in the past, terror attacks tend to come from within. And I think the last incident we saw in Austria was another example of this in many ways. While the individual involved may be a second-generation immigrant, he was actually born in Austria,” Pantucci told VOA. “And so, the question then becomes, ‘If you seal your borders, are you actually really dealing with the problem?'” Home-grown terrorism  To tackle the threat of home-grown radicalization, Europe is proposing new laws to crack down on internet companies hosting extremist content.  “The moment they are given evidence that there is something on their sites that is criminal or damaging, they have to react straight away and quickly,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters. Charles Michel, president of the European Council, called for states to tackle the spread of extremism by foreign imams. European Council President Charles Michel participates in a videoconference at the European Council building in Brussels, Nov. 10, 2020.”How can we encourage the training of imams in Europe? How can we ensure and guarantee, while respecting, of course, the freedom of conscience, freedom of religion — which is an extremely important point in Europe,” Michel said. The EU meeting took place on the fifth anniversary of the coordinated terror attacks in Paris, when nine attackers killed 130 people in a series of shootings and bombings across the capital. Since then, most attacks in Europe have been carried out by so-called lone wolf terrorists, Pantucci noted.  “I don’t think this is a problem that you’re going to be able to eradicate with much ease. I think this is a problem that you’re going to be stuck managing,” he said. “The fact that large network plots don’t seem to be able to get through says to me that security forces have started to get a pretty good grip on what’s going on.” Pantucci added, “I would say as Europeans, we should probably draw comfort from the fact that at least the only sorts of attacks that we can see are these very limited ones, which are horrible for the individuals who get caught up directly in them. But at the end of the day, it’s an infinitely better place to be than seeing large-scale attacks like we saw in Paris or Madrid or London earlier these (recent) decades.” The 27 EU heads of state are due to meet again in December to decide concrete steps on tackling the terror threat. With sensitive topics such as immigration and freedom of movement intrinsic to the discussion, analysts say reaching agreement will not be easy. 

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