European information exchange on foreign fighters - work in progress Europol Building (O. Seveno)

European information exchange on foreign fighters - work in progress

Claimed by EU member states to be top priority, information exchange among security agencies regarding Jihadism and foreign fighters is improving. A lot remains to be done though.

Information exchange between the law enforcement agencies and intelligence services of the EU-member states is considered to be of prime importance to deal with the phenomenon of foreign fighters and extremist Jihadist networks active inside Europe. Analyzing a recent report by the European Police Organization Europol showed that – notwithstanding the urgent calls by European leaders to step up the information exchange – the practical implementation of these political decisions was rather sobering. A new report, launched by the European Counter Terrorism Coordinator in March 2016 but not yet public, sketches a mixed picture. Some progress has been made but a lot remains to be done.

In December 2015 a special Task Force Fraternité was established at Europol to support counter terrorism investigations in Europe in the wake of the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris on 13 November 2015. More than 60 officers were assigned to the first response support activities from within Europol. Currently, 21 Europol officers are permanently working to directly support the Task Force Fraternité. The Task Force is currently supported by 4 seconded national experts from France (3) and Spain (1). However, the EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator calls on the member states to further increase secondments of counter terrorism staff to support the new established European Counter Terrorism Center at Europol.

When it comes to exchanging information on foreign fighters, member states increased their contribution to the Europol Information System (EIS). EIS now holds information concerning over 3,800 foreign fighters and related associates. Concerning terrorism related subjects in general, including foreign fighters and associates, there are now over 4,300 persons linked to terrorism in the EIS. However, according to the EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator, this 'still does not reflect the full extent of the threat.' Within the EIS, the Analytical Working File 'Hydra' (focused on Islamist Terrorism) currently contains over 620,000 data entities, including 64,000 person entities and over 11,000 network related and organization entities. What is lacking however, is judicial coordination and support from the European judicial organization Eurojust. The number of terrorism cases registered at Eurojust in 2015 were no more than 41 cases – of these 39 are operational cases, of which 18 on foreign terrorist fighters.

The most revealing part of the report by the European Counter Terrorism Coordinator however, describes what still has to be done. The word 'should' almost pops up 50 times in the report. Especially when it comes to the interoperability of data bases, analytical functionalities, search functionalities and the contribution of member states' agencies to different European databases and operational structures, a lot still has to be done. As the report concluded: ‘The report shows that while progress is being made in all areas, further urgent improvements to information sharing and border security are necessary.'