Europeans back plan to profile mosques
Security officials from Europe's largest countries have thrown their weight behind the EU Commission's plans to map out mosques on the continent to identify imams who preach radical Islam that raises the threat of homegrown terrorism.
The project, to be finished by the fall, will focus on the roles of imams, their training, their ability to speak in the local language and their source of funding, EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini told a news conference.
Europe had ample experience with the ''misuse of mosques, which instead of being places of worship are used for other ends, Italian Interior Minister Guiliano Amato said Saturday.
''This is bringing about a situation that involves all of our countries and involves the possibility of attacks and developing of networks that use one country to prepare an attack in another,'' Amato said, after a meeting in Venice of interior ministers and security officials from six European countries and the United States.
Frattini also emphasized the need of strengthened dialogue with the Islamic communities ''to avoid sending messages that incite hate and violence.''
Security officials from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland also expressed concern about drug-trafficking, and said they would work with African nations to interrupt a new cocaine route from Colombia across Africa into Europe.
''They have created bases in Europe and we need to have our counter-bases,'' Amato said, noting that the Spaniards have seen an influx of cocaine in the south and east of their country beyond the traditional Atlantic route.
The officials proposed setting up drug-fighting bases in Lisbon to monitor sea traffic and Gibraltar to monitor land.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used the opportunity to discuss with his counterparts ways to reach a new agreement to share airline passenger data for terrorism investigation.
''I think the value of this data perhaps is not widely understood. You can't have an informed discussion on how to handle it unless you know what it is that it provides,'' Chertoff said in an interview.
Chertoff will continue making his case in meetings with EU parliamentarians in Brussels next week.
''What I hope to do in that visit is to explain, with some detail how valuable that information is to us, using examples of cases in which we have stopped people or intercepted people coming into the country who are terrorists or drug traffickers,'' he said.
One example Chertoff has cited is the case in June 2003 of an agent at Chicago's O'Hare airport who, unsatisfied with a foreign traveler's responses, refused entry and sent him back to where he had come from _ first taking his fingerprints.
Those fingerprints, according to Chertoff, turned up later on the steering wheel of a suicide truck bomb detonated in Iraq.
Europe and the U.S. disagree on how long U.S. authorities can use the data, when it should be destroyed and which agencies should have access to the information. The United States also wants the authority to pull data directly from airline computers, but European countries insist airlines must transmit the information to U.S. authorities.
European governments are worried about protecting their strict privacy laws _ a legacy of the continent's history with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.
The current deal, which expires in July, allows the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to disclose passenger data to other American law enforcement agencies for anti-terror investigations if those agencies have protection standards comparable to those of the EU.