Terrorists can’t access weapons, EU anti-terrorist coordinator says after Spain attacks

Gilles de Kerchove, European Counter-Terrorism Coordinator [Security & Defence Agenda / Flickr]

Gilles de Kerchove said it is wrong to say that all attacks can be prevented, in an interview with EURACTIV Spain. [David Plas/Flickr]

The European Union’s anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said that the “modus operandi” of the cell that acted in Catalonia underlines the achievements of law enforcement in Spain and the EU in preventing terrorists from accessing firearms. EURACTIV Spain reports.

“Somehow, if you look at the modus operandi, it’s significant that they did not have access to semiautomatic rifles,” De Kerchove said.

“They used cars, knives and false explosive belts,” he said referring to the attacks that happened on 17 August in Barcelona and Cambrils, leaving 15 dead and more than a hundred wounded.

“It seems illogical to say this after an attack, but the fact that they had to use do-it-yourself weapons shows that we are progressing,” he added.

The coordinator emphasized the collective efforts of the Spanish and European authorities against terror and pointed out that “the main complexity of the fight against terrorism is the diversity of criminal profiles.”

“Among the terrorists operating in Europe, there are those who have a direct relationship with Daesh (self-proclaimed Islamic State), those who are simply inspired by its message, those who act alone or as part of a cell,” he explained.

De Kerchove, who claimed it is efficient to put as many resources into the prevention of radicalization as in the repression of terrorism, said that local authorities have a great role to play in identifying possible threats.

“The local police and other authorities have a lot to do on the side of prevention, education and integration,” said the coordinator, who pointed out that it is the task of local authorities to help the population find a job, as well as develop conditions of integration and minimise discrimination.

“There are hundreds of reports that seek to shed light on what moves these people to act. I think there are three main factors: first, the poor integration of immigrants who do not feel welcomed or fulfilled, second, the role of ideology, especially Salafi jihadism, and finally the role of the internet to radicalize quickly,” he added.

Need to educate imams

As for the possible role of Ripoll’s imam in allegedly radicalizing the terrorists responsible for Thursday’s attacks, De Kerchove pointed out the need to encourage education for imams in member states so that no one is a “self-proclaimed imam.”

“We must invest in establishing the right conditions for a peaceful Islamism, like several countries are doing, including Spain,” he added.

Asked about the fact that the Mossos d’Esquadra [Catalan regional police] did not have direct access to international databases such as Europol, Kerchove said that “this is an issue for Spain only.”

Regarding the use of bollards on Las Ramblas and other pedestrian areas to avoid mass killings in tourist places, he said “one can always learn from past episodes” and “take all possible measures within reach”. However, he pointed out that it is wrong to send “the message that you can prevent 100% of the attacks”.

Impossible to prevent all attacks

De Kerchove was convinced he would be invited to speak before the Special Anti-Terrorist Commission that will be launched in the European Parliament in September.

The European anti-terrorism coordinator hoped that the new body’s goal would be “to learn from the past and study what else can be done.”

“If the objective is just to register each other’s faults, then it will not contribute anything,” he added.

Gilles De Kerchove, from Belgium, was appointed EU anti-terrorism coordinator in 2007 by the then EU Council Secretary-General Javier Solana.