BRUSSELS (AFP) — EU foreign ministers met Monday on building an alliance — including with Muslim countries — against a growing Islamist terror threat, with Europe on high alert after deadly Paris attacks and anti-terrorism raids in Belgium.
The immediate focus for the 28-nation European Union is how to prevent citizens known as “foreign fighters” returning home from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq even more radicalized and well trained.
“We will start with a discussion on how to counter terrorism not only in Europe but in other parts of the world,” EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said as she arrived for the meeting.
“We need to share information more, we need to cooperate more,” Mogherini said, welcoming the presence of Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi at the talks.
“We will discuss with the secretary general how to increase the level of cooperation with our partners,” she said, adding: “We need an alliance, a dialogue.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the Paris attacks, which left 17 people dead, “changed Europe and the world.”
“Today, we must take stock… and discuss what we must do, including possibly increased exchanges with Muslim countries,” Steinmeier said.
His British counterpart Philip Hammond took a similar line.
“The Muslim countries of the world are the ones who have suffered the greatest burden of terrorism and they will continue to be in the front lines,” Hammond said.
“We have to work closely with them to protect both those countries and the EU countries.”
Monday’s meeting will help prepare for a special leaders’ summit on February 12 dedicated to fighting terrorism.
Belgium seeks mastermind
Belgian authorities meanwhile were still hunting for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the brains behind the cell plotting to kill Belgian police that was broken up last week.
Belgian federal prosecutors said they would seek the extradition of a suspect arrested in Athens on Saturday “who could be linked” to the cell.
In Germany, police banned a rally by the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement and other open-air gatherings planned for Monday in the eastern city of Dresden, saying there was a “concrete threat” of an attack against its leadership.
The group claimed the threat came from the Islamic State group based in Syria and Iraq, with local media reporting that PEGIDA’s most prominent leader Lutz Bachmann was the target.
The PEGIDA marches have grown steadily since they began in October and drew a record 25,000 people last Monday in the wake of the Paris attacks that left 17 people dead.
The anti-Islamic rallies have spread to other European countries as well, with the first Danish PEGIDA march due to take place in Copenhagen on Monday. Organizers said they were expecting some 300 people.
Separately, a French court on Sunday prevented a rally by anti-Islamist groups in Paris on the grounds that they were promoting Islamophobia.
Cherif Kouachi, one of two brothers who attacked satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on January 7, was buried in Gennevilliers, near Paris, a day after the funeral of his older brother Said in the northeastern city of Reims.
The brothers were shot dead by police after a three-day manhunt following their attack on Charlie Hebdo. The magazine had enraged many Muslims around the world with its repeated publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad.
Anger then erupted in a string of majority Muslim countries after the magazine responded to the attack by running another caricature last week, showing the prophet under the headline “All Is Forgiven.”
The worst unrest was in Niger, where at least 10 people were killed.
Fresh protests broke out Sunday in Pakistan.
But Charlie Hebdo’s chief editor defended the cartoons.
“Every time we draw a cartoon of Muhammad, every time we draw a cartoon of prophets, every time we draw a cartoon of God, we defend the freedom of religion,” Gerard Biard told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
The weekly has sold 2.7 million copies of the post-killings “survivors’ issue” in France alone and said it would extend its print run to seven million copies—a far cry from the weekly’s normal circulation of 60,000.
President Francois Hollande said France was committed to freedom of expression and that people should not change their habits since “to do so would be to yield to terrorism.”