Af­ter at­tack, EU weigh­ing freedom against se­cu­rity

Ex­trem­ist vi­o­lence is too high a price to pay

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Europe’s open bor­ders sym­bol­ize liberty and for­ward think­ing - but they in­creas­ingly look like the con­ti­nent’s Achilles’ heel. Europe’s No 1 ter­ror­ism sus­pect crossed at least two bor­ders this week de­spite an in­ter­na­tional man­hunt, and was felled only by chance, in a ran­dom ID check. The bun­gled chase for Ber­lin at­tack sus­pect Anis Amri is just one ex­am­ple of re­cent cross-bor­der se­cu­rity fail­ures that are em­bold­en­ing na­tion­al­ists fed up with Euro­pean unity. Ex­trem­ist vi­o­lence, they ar­gue, is too high a price to pay for the freedom to travel.

De­fend­ers of the EU’s bor­der-free zone say the se­cu­rity fail­ures show the need for more co­op­er­a­tion among Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, even shared mil­i­taries - not new bar­ri­ers. Hide­bound habits of hoard­ing in­tel­li­gence within cen­turies-old bor­ders, they con­tend, are part of the prob­lem. But their ar­gu­ments are eas­ily drowned out by the likes of far right leader Marine Le Pen, hop­ing to win France’s pres­i­dency in May.

“The myth of to­tal free move­ment in Europe, which my ri­vals are cling­ing to in this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, should be defini­tively buried. Our se­cu­rity de­pends on it,” she said in a state­ment Fri­day, call­ing the free-travel zone a “to­tal se­cu­rity catas­tro­phe.” That poses a dilemma for EU devo­tees like Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, fac­ing a re-elec­tion bat­tle next year.

Her de­fense of the EU, and the open hand she ex­tended to Syr­ian war refugees, were once seen as as­sets, signs of her moral author­ity. To­day, with anti-im­mi­grant, anti-estab­lish­ment sen­ti­ment ris­ing across Europe, they are threat­en­ing to be­come li­a­bil­i­ties.

Mil­lions cross bor­ders in the 26-coun­try Schen­gen travel zone ev­ery day, thanks to a 31year-old sys­tem en­com­pass­ing nearly 400 mil­lion peo­ple that has dra­mat­i­cally boosted trade and job prospects across the world’s largest col­lec­tive economy.

Grow­ing strain

It’s a pil­lar of a sys­tem de­signed to pre­vent new world wars - a sys­tem that’s un­der grow­ing strain. While EU coun­tries de­bated over how to man­age an in­flux of mi­grants last year, eastern na­tions re­built fences and ex­posed EU weak­nesses. The Ger­man far right is in­sist­ing on clos­ing the bor­ders. Merkel’s con­ser­va­tives are sug­gest­ing “tran­sit zones” to hold mi­grants at the bor­ders while their iden­tity is con­firmed, and mak­ing it eas­ier to hold peo­ple in pre-de­por­ta­tion de­ten­tion.

Ber­lin at­tacker Amri is a painful ex­am­ple of how Is­lamic ex­trem­ists have used Europe’s open bor­ders to at­tack the prin­ci­ples of tol­er­ance they’re meant to epit­o­mize. Af­ter mi­grat­ing il­le­gally from Tu­nisia in 2011, he was im­pris­oned for burn­ing down a mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ter in Italy. When freed, at­tempts to de­port him to Tu­nisia failed for bu­reau­cratic rea­sons. He sub­se­quently trav­eled to Switzer­land and then Ger­many, where he ap­par­ently fell un­der the in­flu­ence of a rad­i­cal net­work ac­cused of re­cruit­ing for the Is­lamic State group.

Though his asylum ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected and he was flagged as a po­ten­tial ter­ror threat, Ger­many obe­di­ently waited for Tu­nisia to pro­duce his pa­per­work be­fore de­port­ing him. And just as the de­por­ta­tion was be­ing fi­nal­ized Mon­day, Amri is be­lieved to have hi­jacked a truck and rammed it into hol­i­day crowds at a Ber­lin Christ­mas mar­ket, killing 12 and wound­ing dozens.

He evaded an in­ter­na­tional man­hunt for more than three days, slip­ping ap­par­ently into France - pos­si­bly with a pis­tol in his pocket - and then Italy be­fore stum­bling into a stan­dard ID check in sub­ur­ban Mi­lan, where he died in a po­lice shootout. Ger­many, France and Italy have failed to ex­plain how he es­caped the drag­net.

“Move­ment from one coun­try to an­other in Europe is easy, es­pe­cially for some­one like Anis Amri, who had lived in Europe for sev­eral years” and knew which bor­ders were eas­ier to cross, said Tu­nisian For­eign Min­istry spokesman Bouraoui Li­mam. France is es­pe­cially em­bar­rassed. It’s been un­der high se­cu­rity as part of a state of emer­gency since last year. It’s acutely aware of the risks of vi­o­lence on trains, af­ter Amer­i­can pas­sen­gers thwarted an at­tack on a Paris-Am­s­ter­dam train in 2015.

Yet French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande vis­ited the Alpine town of Cham­bery on the same day that Amri is be­lieved to have passed through its train sta­tion en route to Italy, un­no­ticed by bor­der guards or the pres­i­dent’s se­cu­rity de­tail. The next morn­ing, as Ital­ian po­lice were iden­ti­fy­ing Amri’s body, France’s in­te­rior min­is­ter vis­ited a Paris train sta­tion to talk about vig­or­ous trans­port se­cu­rity in place for the hol­i­days.

France’s far right and the con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion as­sailed the So­cial­ist govern­ment as lax. “It’s a ver­i­ta­ble kitchen strainer,” said Eric Ciotti, law­maker for the Repub­li­cans. “How could this per­son en­ter in Europe with­out be­ing mon­i­tored? How could we let him set­tle in Europe?” What’s worse, it’s not the first time.

Central is­sues

Last year, hours af­ter IS ex­trem­ists killed 130 peo­ple at mul­ti­ple tar­gets in Paris, key sus­pect Salah Ab­deslam fled to Bel­gium de­spite in­creased checks on both the French and Bel­gian bor­ders. It took au­thor­i­ties four months to find him. Fur­ther, Ab­deslam, a French na­tional, had trav­eled through the Ital­ian port of Bari on a roundtrip jour­ney to Greece in Au­gust, months be­fore the at­tack.—AP

BER­LIN: Peo­ple walk at the Christ­mas mar­ket near the Kaiser-Wil­helm-Gedaecht­niskirche (Kaiser Wil­helm Me­mo­rial Church). — AFP

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