Call for EU leaders to back scrutiny of mosques
European Voice - 9 December 2004
by David Cronin
Increased surveillance of Muslim places of worship in Europe will be recommended to next week’s EU summit (16-17 December).
In a confidential report prepared for the summit, mosques, the internet and prisons are identified as ‘hot spots’ for Islamic extremists seeking terrorist recruits.
As a result, national security services are urged to increase their intelligence-gathering at such locations.
The report has been drawn up following discussions between the Counter Terrorism Group at the Council of Ministers and the EU’s Police Chiefs Task Force. It is a contribution to devising a long-term EU strategy on combating the recruitment of terrorists, to be finalized during 2005.
While it stresses that Islam per se cannot be equated with violent outrages, it notes that the main terrorist threat faced internationally is from Islamic fundamentalists.
No new institutions are needed at EU level to deal with this threat, it says, but greater focus should be used to bolster the capacity of the existing bodies. It advises that the police office Europol should undertake more profiling of Islamic extremists.
Muslim rights activists fear that the recommendation is symptomatic of an increasing prejudice against their religion, following the murder last month of Theo van Gogh, the Dutchman who made a controversial film about women and Islam. "There is absolutely no evidence that mosques are involved in calling people to violence," said Nabil Marmoush from the Arab European League’s Dutch branch. "This kind of proposal only spreads racism and xenophobia"
Roger Smith, from Justice, a civil liberties watchdog, said that any surveillance of mosques should be limited to those suspected of fomenting hatred. "There is clearly a major political danger, that the authorities don’t make the appropriate division between terrorism and Muslims."
But UK Conservative MEP Charles Tannock claimed there was evidence that mosques in his country had been supporting terrorist acts. "All moderate and reasonable Muslims should welcome efforts to identify the hotheads in their midst and to isolate and expose them," he said.
In separate reports for the summit, the EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries laments the slow response of member states in implementing measures deemed useful in combating terrorism.
Just Portugal, Denmark and Spain have so far ratified a protocol to the 2000 Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance, which provides for the monitoring of suspect bank transactions, he notes.
Evaluating the national anti-terrorist arrangements of EU states, de Vries points out that some still do not have an "appropriate legal basis" to use "special techniques for intelligence gathering". Earlier this year, he complained that Portugal, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Sweden did not have suitable legislation allowing interception of phone, fax and email communications.
He notes that information collected by covert means is often inadmissible in court cases.
Asking EU governments to address this situation, he says that, "in order to reinforce the capability to prevent and disrupt terrorist activities, the use of intelligence as evidence could undoubtedly have a positive impact".
But he adds that the "response of the state should be proportionate to the threat and a reasonable balance should be maintained between the civil rights of the individual and the rights and obligations of the state to protect citizens".