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G7 tackles foreign fighters as EU helps shut ‘terror’ route

Italian Interior Minister warned militants could hitch lifts back to Europe on migrant boats from Libya

Gulf News

Ischia, Italy: G7 interior ministers discussed on Friday ways to tackle one of the West’s biggest security threats — jihadist fighters fleeing Syria — as the European Union (EU) promised to help close a migration route labelled a potential back door for terrorists.

The group kicked off with a working session in a seafront hotel on the island of Ischia on how to deal with the fallout from the collapse of the Daesh in its stronghold in Raqa.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti warned last week that fighters planning revenge attacks on Europe following the decisive Daesh defeat could hitch lifts back to Europe on refugee boats from Libya.

On Friday the US and Italy signed an agreement to share their fingerprint databases in a bid to root out potential extremists posing as migrants or refugees.

The “technical understanding” signed by Minniti and Elaine Duke, acting US Homeland Security Secretary, aims “to ascertain whether [migrants, asylum seekers or refugees] are noted criminal suspects or terrorists”, Minniti’s office said.

‘De-radicalisation’

Earlier, EU President Donald Tusk promised the bloc would fork out more funds to help shut down the perilous crossing from Libya to Italy — a popular path for refugees who hope to journey on to Europe.

The bloc would offer “stronger support for Italy’s work with the Libyan authorities”, and there was “a real chance of closing the central Mediterranean route”, he said.

Italy has played a major role in training Libya’s coastguard to stop human trafficking in its territorial waters, as well as making controversial deals with Libyan militias to stop refugees from setting off.

The numbers of refugee departures from the crisis-hit country have dropped 20 per cent so far this year.

Italy said Wednesday the G7 group would also be working on how to go about “de-radicalising” citizens returning from the Daesh front line, to prevent them becoming security risks in jails.

France said there would be negotiations on tackling the legal headache of prosecuting returnees, with questions over what sort of evidence, collected by whom, could be used in a domestic court.

Tens of thousands of citizens from Western countries travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for Daesh between 2014 and 2016, including some who then returned and staged attacks that claimed dozens of lives.

‘Fine words, little action’

The G7 (Group of Seven) — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US — dedicated their second working session to the hot issue of terrorism online, with analysts warning Daesh’s loss of territory will turn street-to-street fighting into an intelligence war.

In a G7 first, representatives from internet giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter also took part as the interior ministers want the tech giants to go further and faster in identifying extremism.

Britain in particular is attempting a carrot-and-stick approach, warning it may force the hands of the tech giants over monitoring activities if requests for greater voluntary cooperation fall on deaf ears.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who was on Ischia, has also suggested those accessing and viewing extremist material on the web should face up to 15 years behind bars.

But Julian Richards, security specialist at Buckingham University Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS), said he expected “a lot of fine words ... but perhaps not many concrete policy proposals” from the G7 team.

“The UK’s fairly hard approach of introducing legislative measures to try to force companies to cooperate ... and suggestions that people radicalising online should have longer sentences, are often considered rather unpalatable and too politically sensitive in many other advanced countries,” he told AFP.

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