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MT 27 March 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 27 MARCH 2016 22 Opinion T uesday's despicable bloody strike at the heart of Europe, for which Daesh (the so-called Islamic "State") has assumed responsibility, did not only claim over 30 lives and injured more than 250 innocent people. It also threatens to maim our spirit, change our way of life, limit the freedoms we take for granted, and imperil 60 years of European integration. This is one of the darkest hours that our continent has had to face since the end of World War II. Our common values – respect for human dignity and rights, liberty, democracy, equality, and the rule of law – are under attack. All EU Member States must stand together in these challenging times to ensure that we guarantee our safety and security without giving up our freedoms. Of course, this does not mean that citizens will not turn to the national authorities, that are closer to them, to seek reassurance and protection. As soon as news of the horrifying tragedy in Brussels started breaking, I convened the Heads of Malta's Armed Forces, Police Force, Aviation Security and Security Services, and received an assurance that there was no known threat to our country. Notwithstanding, we acted swiftly to step up security at the airport and the sea port, our island's main points of entry, so as to put people's minds at rest. At the same time, these measures serve as a deterrent. While it is the national administrations' duty to ensure security within their jurisdictions, this does not exclude but rather complements a closer collaboration on the European level. This certainly is not the time for nationalistic entrenchment. It is a moment in time that, more than ever before, demands full solidarity amongst the 28-strong bloc. On Tuesday, I wrote to my Belgian counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Security and Home Affairs Jan Jambon, expressing my deep sadness at the loss of life, injuries, and damage sustained. I extended my sincere condolences to him and to the families of the victims, while expressing my resolve to work together in order to overcome all threats against our shared values and freedoms. This is yet another time when we are being called to work closely together to face a common enemy. We must also team up with other allies outside the Union, as these attacks have clearly demonstrated the transnational nature of terrorism. The fight against terror requires a holistic and unified approach. It is in this context that Malta welcomed the text of the joint statement adopted by the ministers for justice and security and representatives of EU institutions at the end of the extraordinary meeting convened by the Dutch Presidency of the EU in Brussels on Thursday to show solidarity with Belgium, discuss the actual state of play in the fight against terrorism and pursue swift completion and implementation of legislation. We sincerely hope that the commitments we have taken in that statement will lead us to making steady headway in our fight against terrorism. During that meeting, we decided to further build upon the combined national efforts to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the networks involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks and other similar networks. We also stressed the need to adopt the Passenger Name Record Directive, that would oblige airlines to hand EU countries their passengers' data in order to help the authorities to fight terrorism and serious crime, next month. We also agreed to pursue ongoing work in a resolute manner. This means swiftly completing legislation on combating terrorism, systematic checks at external borders of the Schengen area, control of the acquisition and possession of firearms, and the extension of the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) to third country nationals; the implementation of the action plan to fight terrorism financing; a fight against document fraud and the full implementation of existing EU rules on explosive precursors; and further cooperation in the field of counter terrorism between the EU and Turkey and the countries of North Africa, the Middle East and the Western Balkans. The Member States undertook to share information with transport authorities and operators as appropriate, so that risk assessments can be conducted in an effective and efficient manner, and mitigating measures can be adapted as necessary to potential threats to transport. Indeed, in the light of what has happened in the distant past and recent attacks on transport means and stations, one must take no risks. We will also increase, without further delay, the systematic feeding and consistent use and interoperability of European and international databases in the fields of security, travel, and migration by making full use of technological developments and including privacy safeguards. The Commission will in the coming weeks present a communication on smart borders and interoperability, to which Malta looks forward. The EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator, the Presidency, the Commission and experts will join forces to submit, by June, concrete deliverables particularly to improve the collection, checking and connecting of information in the field of counter terrorism. We will find ways, as a matter of priority, to secure and obtain digital evidence more quickly and effectively by intensifying cooperation with third countries and with service providers that are active on European territory, in order to improve compliance with EU and Member States legislation and direct contact with law enforcement authorities. When the Council meets in June, it will identify concrete measures to address this complex matter. We will continue to develop effective preventive measures, especially by improving early detection of signs of radicalisation at the local level, and intensify work to counter terrorist propaganda and develop robust rehabilitation programmes. Since the establishment of Daesh, Islamist radicalisation has been observed not only in traditionally Muslim countries but perhaps more so in the Western world, particularly Europe. Thousands of radicals born and bred in Europe have gone to Syria to fight under the black flag, and many have returned in our midst. The highly professional propaganda developed by Daesh and the increased ease of its dissemination over the internet have been major contributors of this problem which has, in many instances, been the trigger for lone-wolf attacks. They consider themselves warriors, and us Europeans, the "corrupt crusaders", as their foes. In view of this, Malta is highly supportive of measures - through the Radicalisation Awareness Network - aimed at identifying, preventing and rehabilitating radicalised individuals. On Thursday we also agreed to fully support the work of the Counter Terrorism Group, a dedicated platform for real time, multilateral information exchange between the security services of the Member States, Switzerland and Norway. We are also determined to use Joint Investigation Teams more regularly, to coordinate investigations as well as gather and exchange evidence. They have proved very useful after the attacks in Paris. A joint liaison team of national counter- terrorism experts will be set up at Europol's European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) to support the Member States' law enforcement authorities in investigating the wider European and international dimensions of the current terrorist threat. This team will draw on Europol's law enforcement capabilities to monitor the threat from foreign fighters, the flows of terrorist financing and illegal firearms, and online propaganda. The EU has regrettably been slow to adapt itself to the rapidly evolving scenario with regard to terrorist acts on its soil. Things must change; a closer Europe-wide cooperation on security is now a sine qua non. In the words of the EU's Home Affairs Commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, "all Member States (must) start working together to foster mutual trust, exchange information and intelligence, because this is the only way to go ahead." We must ensure that we are one step ahead of terrorists, and not the other way round. Carmelo Abela is home affairs minister Psaila Inga Boissevain's novel at all leading book shops @ €8.99 Carmelo Abela Death came to Brussels with the bombings United against terror

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