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Nations vow better intel sharing to halt terror attacks

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 - 06:58

[THE HAGUE] Foreign ministers and diplomats from over 50 nations on Monday bowed to calls for greater information sharing to stop extremists slipping across borders to carry out attacks, making concrete pledges to plug dangerous intelligence lapses.

The participants unveiled a raft of resolutions after a day-long meeting at the headquarters of the European police agency Europol in The Hague.

"We all agree that we need to share information better, smarter and faster," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told a press conference.

Intel sharing "has to be more precise including in such areas as the interruption of travel plans and the financing of terror plans".

"We made specific agreements between foreign intelligence units, concrete cooperation between financial institutions and law enforcement agencies," he said.

This included launching a "knowledge hub" consisting of a team of experts who will gather all information "in one place about foreign terror fighters including who they are, their background, what their travel plans are, what routes they are taking and their relationship with organised crime," Mr Koenders said.

In the wake of the November 13 Paris attacks, allegedly masterminded by a Belgian-born extremist, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders had admitted that 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 the talks hosted by The Netherlands.

"We are doing it more and more among European services, but there is still work to be done," he acknowledged.

While there was a lot of bilateral cooperation, Mr 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 took 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," Mr Koenders said earlier.

"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 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.

Countries are often wary of sharing hard-won intelligence with other nations with which they may not have such good relations.

But Mr Koenders insisted the key was "mutual trust." 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.

Mr Harlem, speaking later to reporters, said countries needed to share lists of foreign fighters so they could be traced and tracked.

Mr Koenders warned however 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," he said.

"But in reality they are our compatriots, our acquaintances, classmates of our kids."

Mr Koenders revealed on Sunday that 42 names - 39 people and three organisations - were now on the Dutch terror blacklist, with the number doubling in just one year.

AFP