BRUSSELS: EU foreign ministers called on Monday for an alliance with Muslim countries to fight the growing Islamist militant threat as anger over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons fed fresh protests and violence.
Foreign policy head Federica Mogherini met Arab League chief Nabil al Arabi to urge better cooperation in the wake of last week’s deadly Paris attacks and anti-terrorism raids in Belgium.
On the other side of a widening divide, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Russia’s Chechnya while dozens of churches were torched in Niger during protests over the publication of the blasphemous caricatures.
In Brussels, where Belgian troops guarded the EU headquarters and other sensitive buildings, ministers were discussing how to prevent battle-hardened jihadis returning home from Syria and Iraq.
“Terrorism and terrorist attacks are targeting most of all Muslims in the world so we need an alliance,” Ms Mogherini told reporters.
“We need to strengthen our way of cooperating together, first of all with Arab countries but also internally. The threat is not only the one we faced in Paris but also spreading in many other parts of the world.”
Mr Arabi, the Arab League’s secretary general, said that “every country in the world is suffering from terrorism”. “It is not just a military or security issue, it covers the intellectual, cultural, media and religious spheres and that is what we are trying to get,” he said.
Europe is on high alert after three French gunmen killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris earlier this month, claiming they were acting on behalf of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group. Two suspected militants were also killed in a police raid in Belgium on Thursday.
Many of the ministers will meet again on Thursday in London when US Secretary of State John Kerry co-hosts talks with some 20 countries, including Arab states.
The EU meeting on Monday was to prepare for a special European summit on Feb 12 dedicated to fighting terrorism.
But so far many EU states have been reluctant to open up their intelligence networks to anyone except their most trusted allies for fear of harmful leaks, let alone with the Arab world.
Efforts to push through a system for exchanging air passenger information which many states say would help track suspected militants have also been held up by a sceptical European Parliament.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said however in Brussels that the Paris attacks had “changed Europe and the world”, calling for “possibly increased exchanges with Muslim countries”.
His British counterpart Philip Hammond made the same point and pressed the need for progress on the passenger data system.
In London, however, the government found itself embroiled in a damaging spat over a letter sent to British imams with its call for community leaders to do more to root out extremism.
Belgian authorities meanwhile were still hunting for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the brains behind an Islamist cell plotting to kill Belgian police that was broken up last week.
In the Muslim world anger still raged at the publication of a new blasphemous cartoon on the front of Charlie Hebdo’s comeback issue last week.
Russia’s interior ministry claimed 800,000 people had flooded into Grozny, the capital of the Muslim province of Chechnya — three-quarters of the republic’s population – to demonstrate.
Published in Dawn January 20th , 2015