Ministers demanded greater intelligence sharing to stop extremist groups slipping across borders to carry out attacks, urging concrete commitments at talks Monday to stem dangerous intel lapses.
In the wake of the November 13 Paris attacks allegedly masterminded by a Belgian-born extremist, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders admitted more must be done.
“Intelligence services must get used to not only collecting information, but to sharing it,” he told AFP on the sidelines of talks on how to thwart terror groups, attended by more than 50 countries.
“We are doing it more and more among European services, but there is still work to be done,” he acknowledged at the conference hosted by The Netherlands. While there was a lot of bilateral cooperation, Reynders said it was not happening “in a very structured fashion between very many states.”
Held as part of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum and the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group, the talks were taking place nearly two months after the Paris attacks which killed 130 people.
And they come as The Netherlands begins its six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.
“What we face today is terrorism 2.0. Like a virus, it adapts to survive and becomes more resilient,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told the opening of the talks.
Not like Bruce Willis in ‘Die Hard’
“We are not dealing with the stereotypical terrorist we see in the movies. The type that can be defeated by a one-man army like Bruce Willis in ‘Die Hard’.”
The talks come after months of deadly attacks staged by the Islamic State jihadist group, which has captured a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria attracting a thousands of foreign fighters to its ranks.
Speaking to AFP, France’s European Affairs Minister Harlem Desir said coordination was crucial.
“Today the whole international community needs to work together to fight against terrorism,” he said.
“There also has to be a huge coordination in intelligence matters, judicial and police cooperation.”
Countries are often wary of sharing hard-won intelligence with other nations with which they may not have such good relations.
But Koenders insisted the key was “mutual trust” adding the conference aimed to identify precise ways nations and organisations like Europol and Interpol could help each other.
“Do we trust each other enough to share information, and are we willing to work together?” he asked.
“This means sharing information and data” as well as threat analyses, he said.
‘They are not foreign at all‘
There was little point in the Netherlands freezing assets of suspected extremists, if they could just go across the border into another European country and withdraw cash, he argued.
Désir, speaking later to reporters, said countries also needed to share lists of foreign fighters, saying there must be a “very strong commitment (by) each EU member state to transmit all the intelligence information that’s relevant in the fight against terrorism.”
Calling for greater insight into the dark corners of the Internet, Koenders also highlighted how extremists had used PlayStation and apps such as Telegram to organise the Paris attacks.
And he warned that the scores of people flocking to join IS were not really “foreign fighters.”
“I think the uncomfortable truth is that they are not foreign at all. They may be foreigners in the countries where they are going.
“But in reality they are our compatriots, our acquaintances, classmates of our kids.”
Koenders revealed Sunday that 42 names — 39 people and three organisations — were now on the Dutch terror blacklist, with the number doubling in just one year.