EU must watch Daesh in Africa, pres­i­dency says

With fight­ers be­ing driven out of self-styled caliphate, many have fled to North Africa

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

LUX­EM­BOURG: EU coun­tries must mon­i­tor “very care­fully” a grow­ing threat from Daesh (ISIS) in North Africa as mil­i­tants re­lo­cate there from Iraq and Syria, the bloc’s cur­rent pres­i­dency warned.

Es­to­nian In­te­rior Min­is­ter An­dres An­velt, whose coun­try holds the six-month EU pres­i­dency, told AFP that with U.S. and other for­eign-backed forces driv­ing Daesh fight­ers from their self-styled caliphate, many have re­lo­cated to North Africa in the last year.

“They are afraid to go back home [to Europe] be­cause they have [com­mit­ted] so-called war crimes or ter­ror­ist crimes.” An­velt said in an in­ter­view be­fore chair­ing EU in­te­rior min­is­ter talks in Lux­em­bourg Fri­day.

“So they started to look for other places to fight and it’s in North Africa. So we have to look very care­fully what will hap­pen in the close fu­ture in North Africa,” An­velt said.

“Daesh in North Africa is the sec­ond big­gest prob­lem af­ter Syria and Iraq, where we have to put our ef­forts,” he said.

He cited con­cerns that Daesh cells could or­der at­tacks from North Africa, en­ter Europe from the re­gion, or pro­mote peo­ple smug­gling as it is a good source of “tax” rev­enue.

He es­ti­mated that hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of Daesh fight­ers were now in North Africa, a pres­ence that he said could fuel in­sta­bil­ity, par­tic­u­larly in Libya where EU and U.N.-backed Prime Min­is­ter Fayez al-Sar­raj is strug­gling to re­store or­der.

Such in­sta­bil­ity has been a ma­jor cause of mi­gra­tion to Europe and has di­vided the EU po­lit­i­cally.

For around a year EU of­fi­cials have also ex­pressed con­cern about the risk of at­tacks from bat­tle-hard­ened fight­ers re­turn­ing from Iraq and Syria. An­velt gave no up­date on how many Daesh mem­bers have re­turned to Europe.

EU of­fi­cials es­ti­mated in De­cem­ber that around a third of the es­ti­mated 5,000 Euro­pean mil­i­tants who went to Syria and Iraq have re­turned home.

An­velt said the Euro­peans have also ben­e­fit­ted from Daesh de­feats in Syria and Iraq, as “bat­tle­field ev­i­dence” and pris­oner in­ter­ro­ga­tions have helped “to­ward the pre­vent­ing of ter­ror­ist at­tacks” in Europe.

He said civil­ian and mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion to gather ev­i­dence in war zones that can stand up in Euro­pean courts is the trend to­ward fight­ing “the hy­brid war” of ter­ror­ism.

An­velt said Daesh has changed tac­tics in the last year or more by in­spir­ing sym­pa­thiz­ers through on­line pro­pa­ganda to stage at­tacks with ve­hi­cles, such as in the French re­sort of Nice and the Ger­man cap­i­tal Ber­lin, or knives, as in Eng­land.

An­velt said Euro­pean se­cu­rity ex­perts were in­creas­ingly work­ing with or aim­ing to work with the au­thor­i­ties in Libya, Niger, Tu­nisia, Al­ge­ria and Morocco to im­prove their se­cu­rity ser­vices as a mu­tual in­ter­est. “So far Libya, as the most un­sta­ble coun­try in this area, is the big­gest con­cern for Europe,” An­velt added. He said EU help in boost­ing the Libyan coast­guard is one fac­tor help­ing cut mi­gra­tion to Europe.

An­velt, mean­while, said he was con­cerned about Rus­sia’s al­liance with Gen. Khal­ifa Haf­tar in eastern Libya be­cause, even if Moscow does not sup­port Daesh, it may pro­mote in­sta­bil­ity, a “push fac­tor” for Europe-bound mi­grants. “The Rus­sian side over the last 10 years al­most … have not been very in­ter­ested in co­op­er­a­tion,” the min­is­ter said, whose for­mer com­mu­nist coun­try is wor­ried about Rus­sia’s new as­sertive­ness. –

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