By Anthony Luzzatto Gardner
This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2016
Belgium – Brussels : Bertrand Naverret trained as a lawyer, but gave up his law practice to work as a carpenter and surf the waves off Capbreton. On November 13, 2015, Bertand was tragically murdered by terrorists in Paris while attending a concert at the Bataclan. He was 38 years old.
Sierra Clayborn graduated university in 2010 and worked as an environmental health specialist. Her Facebook profile photo revealed the red, white and blue filter so many added following the Paris terrorist attacks to show support. On December 2, 2015, she was shot to death in San Bernardino, California, along with 13 other people in what is being investigated as a terrorist act. Sierra was 27 years old.
Sadly, no one would assert in recent years that the United States or countries within the European Union have been insulated from terrorist attacks on our homelands. We’ve all witnessed these types of heinous, criminal acts before.
But as President Obama stated, following the shootings in San Bernardino, “the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase.” The President further noted that while intelligence and enforcement agencies have successfully kept us from harm in many instances, the new strategy of terrorists is to become multilateral and turn our own citizens against us — alone or in cooperation with imported assassins. Even when our citizens seemingly act alone, they may very well have been directed or supported by outside, nefarious influences.
We know the female shooter in California emigrated from Pakistan and had expressed previously unnoticed jihadist views in social media, although whether she was an active jihadist at the time of her entry into the United States is currently unknown at the time of this writing.
Within the EU, there have been very few truly “domestic” terrorist attacks in the past couple of years (although even one is still too many). The 2014 murders at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were perpetrated by a French national, who previously had traveled to Syria and back to France, through several countries, using a method termed by investigators as “broken travel,” to avoid surveillance and detection.
The murders almost one year ago at Charlie Hebdo involved French citizens using firearms obtained in Belgium.
And the terrorist attacker on the Thalys train in August 2015 was Moroccan, who traveled from France to Belgium to obtain firearms and board the train. He previously lived in Paris, Vienna, Cologne, as well as Brussels and was known to Spanish authorities as being connected to Islamic radicals. The November Paris attacks are still being investigated, but it is clear nationals from Belgium and France teamed with individuals who entered from outside the European Union to commit terrorism.
Terrorists are now working multilaterally. In response, we must do the same if we are to be successful in defeating them.
This is why it is fortunate that the United States, the European Union, and other countries are engaging in multilateral efforts to combat terrorism at a location less than 180 kilometers from my office in Brussels.
At Europol, the European Police Office, law enforcement and customs agencies from the 28 Member States of the European Union and 10 non-EU countries, including the United States, work side by side in task forces to restrict terrorist financing, combat smuggling of foreign terrorist fighters from conflict zones, and establish links between known and suspected terrorists. Ultimately, the work aims to disrupt attacks well before they occur by cross-checking information against multiple sources, some of which are only accessible to one government, but may be relevant to many others.
Every investigation is supported by legal process pursuant to the sovereign laws of each country. Therefore, a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty is not required for the initial police to police cooperation. Information obtained by our collective nations is shared with other countries as needed and appropriate, but the attitude of the police working side-by-side is the same: “if I can protect the citizens of your country from terrorism with something I know, I need to tell you.”
That sentiment is so far removed from the times when national law enforcement agencies kept information to themselves, sealed off by borders, not even sharing with our neighbors.
The United States recognizes the importance of critical information sharing and has committed resources to Europol to further transnational investigations. Ten U.S. law enforcement agencies have a presence at Europol and 2016 will see an increase in dedicated U.S. personnel. In the hours, days and weeks following the November 13 attacks in Paris, U.S. law enforcement agencies provided over 850 investigative leads to French and Belgian investigators.
On the very day this is scheduled to be published, Europol will inaugurate the European Counter Terrorism Centre, adding to the dedication of the EU in combatting ISIL and others that want to do us harm. The ECTC will surely become a centre of excellence, similar to the successful European Cybercrime Centre.
In the U.S., we have our experience establishing the National Counterterrorism Center after the attacks of 9/11 and have learned more than a few valuable lessons. We stand ready to provide any requested technical assistance, best practices, or other support. Clearly, there is more we can do. We must improve upon the number of countries contributing to certain Europol task forces. For instance, over half of the information provided to Europol’s group tracking the travel of foreign terrorist fighters was provided by just five EU Member States. Half of the Member States have not used Europol’s central information database for counter-terrorism purposes. Also, with the European Union finalizing plans to create an EU Passenger Name Record system, sharing information between our complementary PNR systems will further contribute to our joint fight against terrorism.
I wish I could say definitively that 2016 will be a year free from terrorist attacks in Europe or the United States. That is certainly the desire of the U.S. Government and European Union leaders as we work together to combat this scourge and safeguard the lives and freedom of our people. What I can say is we are far closer to a multilateral strategy and effort to defeat terrorism. We must not forget what happened to Bertrand, Sierra and the many other victims of terrorist acts and we must intensify our shared effort to prevent the terrorists from striking more victims. Failure to share information that could save innocent lives is simply not an option. And this coming year, I will continue my efforts to further this work. The United States and the European Union will be stronger and safer the more we pool our efforts in the name of upholding our values and our freedom.