Europe moves to unify efforts against terror

Streamlined extradition, arrest warrants valid throughout EU sought

Terrorism Strikes America

September 30, 2001|By Bill Glauber | By Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - Desperate to smash terror cells that might be affiliated with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and eager to create a continent-wide anti-terror policy, Europe is engaged in a two-track approach to combating global terrorism.

The attacks in the United States on Sept. 11 have triggered sweeping investigations and proposals for new laws. Europe, a continent of many languages and legal systems, appears to be taking tentative steps toward creating a united approach to the terrorist threat.

In Britain, authorities have put 1,500 additional police officers onto London's streets and discussed introducing national identity cards.

In France, authorities have begun a nationwide security plan that sent 4,500 troops and anti-riot police officers to key sites and made arrests linked to a suspected plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

In Germany, officials are searching for clues to three former Hamburg-based students who participated in the hijackings in the United States, and politicians are considering stiff anti-terror laws.

Despite long experience in battling terrorism, Europe has never before faced a terror threat like that posed by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of being the mastermind of the attacks in New York and Washington.

Groups such as the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain and nationalist extremists on the French island of Corsica are essentially regional and have defined political aims. The attacks in the United States point to a global phenomenon.

Adding impetus to the debate over how to combat the global challenge is the growing realization that several terrorist "sleepers" associated with al-Qaida apparently lived and studied in Europe for years before their suicide mission in the United States. It is thought that 11 of the suspected hijackers passed through British airports on their way across the Atlantic.

Through the 1990s, the 15-member European Union embarked on one of its most ambitious projects, doing away with most border controls to speed the movement of people and goods. The terrorists were apparently among those who slipped through this borderless Europe.

"A Europe without borders is not finished," said Alfred Pfaller, editor of an international political journal at the German-based Friedrich Ebert foundation. "There may be a backlash against borderless Europe, but people will take a second look and see that even in the United States, with really well-protected borders, the terrorists got in. There is no direct association between lax European border controls and the entrance of terrorists."

Instead, Europe is seeking to harmonize laws and procedures, setting a Dec. 7 deadline for creating an EU-wide arrest warrant. Such a warrant would clear away extradition issues, allowing terrorism suspects to be quickly sent from one country to another.

The EU is also seeking to provide a legal definition of terrorism. Both proposals were contained in a European Parliament report on terrorism unveiled a week before the attacks of Sept. 11.

"When you're facing a super-national threat, you need a super-national response," said Graham R. Watson, the report's author and a British member of the European Parliament. "The fig leaf of national sovereignty is serving to only hide the powerlessness of the nation-state in such matters."

Watson said Europe must go further to combat terrorism, including giving greater power to the fledgling police force Europol, in effect creating a Europe-wide FBI.

Courts in all of the EU countries should work together, he said. "It would be much easier if Europe had a one-stop shop for other democracies so America needed only one extradition agreement with the whole of Europe," he said.

Even with a single extradition agreement, sending terrorism suspects from Europe to the United States could run into roadblocks, especially in death penalty cases. Europe is opposed to the death penalty and would probably oppose extradition in such cases.

With one extradition agreement, Watson said, the United States would have to agree with Europe that the people involved were not subjected to the death penalty.

The recent events have transformed the tenor of the debate over security and civil rights issues in Europe. "In the past, security in Europe was a negligible phenomenon," said Hans-Peter Mueller, a sociologist at Humboldt University in Berlin. "We stressed the openness of Europe, Europe as a continent of integration and not as a castle. That will change."

Mueller said countries will review their policies on immigration, a daunting issue for many of them, including Britain, Germany, France and Italy, all of which have had an influx of refugees.

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