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    Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel welcomes his French counterpart Manuel Valls ahead of a meeting to find a common front on security challenges at Val Duchesse castle in Brussels, Belgium, February 1, 2016.

    France and Belgium Push Counterterrorism Deal Amid Intel Criticism

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    The Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel his French counterpart Manuel Valls have unveiled a joint counterterrorism deal between the two countries after heavy criticism of the lack of intelligence-sharing ahead of the November 13 attacks in Paris.

    Law enforcement and intelligence services in France and Belgium came in for criticism in the wake of the Paris attacks — in which 130 people were killed and hundreds injured in a series of shootings and suicide bomb attacks — when it was revealed many of the terrorists were on the intelligence radar. 

    Michel and Valls have unveiled an agreement on better information-sharing, the promotion of the Passenger Name Record system — under which all international travelers have all their travel documents cross-checked and saved — as well as the deployment of a French official to work alongside the Belgian authorities on major investigations.

    It emerged after the November 13 attacks that Abdelhamid Abaaoud — one of the terrorists who took part in the series of attacks on November 13, 2015 in Paris killing 130 people and injuring hundreds more — was able to cross from Europe by ferry and meet jihadists in the UK, despite having an international arrest warrant out on him.

    Belgian soldiers patrol in the streets, after security was tightened in Belgium following the Paris attacks, in Brussels, Belgium, November 17, 2015
    © REUTERS/ Pascal Rossignol
    Belgian soldiers patrol in the streets, after security was tightened in Belgium following the Paris attacks, in Brussels, Belgium, November 17, 2015

    Intelligence agencies in Europe are facing heavy criticism that one of the November 13 Paris attackers, Salah Abdeslam, from Belgium, was known to the law enforcement services yet managed to buy detonators in France using his driving license as proof of identity.

    Free to Roam

    The admission comes amid severe criticism of European intelligence agencies for failing to prevent the attacks, in which 130 died and hundreds were injured, despite having most of the attackers on the radar. The ringleader, Abaaoud was able to return from Syria several times via the migrant route of Greece without being detected.

    There was further criticism of the lack of border controls within Europe — under the Schengen agreement — which allowed Abaaoud and his fellow attackers to travel several times between France and Belgium in the run-up to the attacks and — in Abdeslam's case — following the attacks.

    It has also emerged that French intelligence agents had interviewed a jihadist who had returned from Syria in June 2015 and who said he had met Abaaoud.

    The jihadist told the officers that Abaaoud discussed soft targets in Paris that would involve mass killings. He spoke of "finding an easy target, a concert for example, where there are [a lot of] people. Imagine a rock concert in a European country, if we gave you arms, would you be prepared to fire into the crowd?" he said.

    One of the November targets was the Bataclan music venue where most of the 130 people died. Other soft targets were the Stade de France, where a match was being played, cafes and restaurants.

    People rest on a bench after being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015
    © AP Photo/ Thibault Camus
    People rest on a bench after being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015

    Intelligence sources have told Sputnik the French-Belgian move is more grandstanding to show their backing for their own law enforcement services and that more Pan-European collaboration is the way forward. The Netherlands — which currently hold the presidency of the Council of the EU — is pushing for more powers for law agencies Europol and Interpol to counter terrorism.

    Related:

    'No One Is Safe': Ideological Terrorist Attacks Cannot Be Predicted
    Belgian Security Services Knew Paris Terror Attacks Would Come Since 2012
    Paris Attacker Contacts Lawyer Amid Biggest Manhunt in Europe
    Paris Attacks: Police Investigation Reveals Wider Belgian Network
    Tags:
    jihadists, intelligence information, terror threat, collaboration, terror attack, sharing, intelligence, agreement, Paris Attacks, November 13, 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Charles Michel, Manuel Valls, Europe, Belgium, France
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