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France, Belgium push for anti-jihadi air travel monitoring at European ministers’ meeting

media A Belgian soldier guards an entrance of the European Council headquarters in central Brussels Reuters/Yves Herman

European foreign affairs ministers were to discuss EU-wide cooperation to combat Islamist violence at a meeting in Brussels on Monday. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France and Belgium were pushing for the swift adoption of a system for monitoring air travellers.

The authorities want to watch radicalised Muslims, like the Kouachi brothers who attacked the French satirical paper, and catch jihadis who have gone to fight abroad.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

Several countries want a Europe-wide Passenger Name Recognition (PNR) system that will give the authorities access to information about who is travelling anywhere in Europe.

Adoption of has been held up since 2011 because some Euro-MPs object to the fact that it takes data, including information not required to cross borders, from the airline reservation system.

About 15 countries already operate PNRs and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced last week that France will adopt it as part of the anti-terror clampdown following the killing spree by the Kouachis and Amedy Coulibaly.

Before leaving for Brussels on Monday morning, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius told France 2 TV that, “given what has happened in France, Belgium and elsewhere”, he hoped the European parliament will agree the move.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen slammed the idea on French radio on Monday.

It would be a first step to “surveillance of emails, surveillance of letters and then we get to a state that no longer protects individual freedoms,” she told France Inter, going on to call for France to pull out of the Schengen free-movement accord and restore control of its borders.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi was a guest at the ministers’ meeting as part of an effort to build an alliance with Muslim countries to fight armed Islamist groups.

"Terrorism and terrorist attacks are targeting most of all Muslims in the world so we need an alliance," EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said. "We need to strengthen our way of cooperating together, first of all with Arab countries but also internally.”

Belgian troops were patrolling the streets on Monday following last week’s raids in which two suspects were killed and, they say, a plot to attack police and magistrates was foiled.

Police were still searching for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who they believe was the brains behind the plot.

Prosecutors were seeking the extradition of a 33-year-old Algerian who “could be connected” to the cell that was broken up in raids last week.

The meeting comes ahead of talks between 20 counties co-hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry in London on Thursday, an interior ministers’ meeting in Riga on 28 January and a meeting of EU heads of state and government on 12 February.
 

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