European leaders on Tuesday proposed tightening the external borders of the EU’s visa-free Schengen zone in response to a series of deadly attacks blamed on Islamist extremists.
The announcement came after talks between leaders of France, Austria, Germany and the European Union to discuss the threat of terrorism in Europe.
The meeting was hosted in Paris by French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz — whose countries have both suffered deadly Islamist attacks in recent weeks. They were joined digitally by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.
Macron called for a “rapid and coordinated” response and said Europe’s asylum provisions were being misused by people seeking entry for sinister reasons. “Every security lapse at the external borders or in a member state is a security risk for all member states,” he said.
Merkel, for her part, said it was “urgent and crucial for us to know who enters and who leaves” the Schengen area.
One week ago, a man who allegedly tried to join the Islamic State group shot and killed four people in the Austrian capital of Vienna.
And in France last month, an Islamic extremist killed three people in a church in Nice, while another extremist beheaded a teacher near Paris for showing students some cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
And German prosecutors are treating a stabbing in the eastern city of Dresden as an Islamist extremist attack.
The attacks galvanized calls in their respective countries for a strengthened crackdown on Islamic extremism.
It also prompted calls for strengthening external EU border controls.
The French response
In response to the attacks in France, Macron announced a crackdown on what he called “Islamic separatism,” saying that Islamists in France had created a parallel culture that rejects French values, customs and laws.
The new bill targets people who promote extremism, tries to prevent children from dropping out of school, combats terror financing, and reforms its housing and education policies to try and empower the disenfranchised.
Macron has also called for more coordinated policing inside the bloc’s border-free Schengen zone.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has traveled to Italy, Algeria and Tunisia, to try and increase cooperation against terrorism.
After the Austrian attack, authorities have remanded 10 people in custody as possible accomplices and have separately raided more than 60 premises linked to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Hamas movement.
They seized millions of euros in cash, and issued orders for 30 suspects to be questioned.
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said it was a move aimed at “cutting off the roots of political Islam”. The Austrian also ordered two mosques in Vienna that frequented by the attacker to be closed.
Train imams in Europe
EU Council President Charles Michel earlier called for the establishment of a new EU body to oversee the training of imams and make sure their follows do not contribute to spreading an “ideology of hate.”
“To fight the ideology of hatred, we need to set up as soon as possible a European institute to train imams in Europe,” Michel said in a Twitter message.
“Online messages glorifying terrorism must be quickly removed. There must be no impunity for terrorists and those praising them on internet,” he added.
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