A leaked EU report examining the terror attacks in Berlin, Paris and Brussels warns of gaping holes in the ability of the security services to monitor movements in and out of Europe.
The document, obtained by the Guardian, notes that all those who committed or sought to commit large-scale terror attacks in recent years crossed the EU's external border "at some point prior to committing their attacks". It warns that even EU citizens subject to a European arrest warrant were able to enter the continent freely or to leave "without being detected due to the non-systematic check of EU citizens".
Under the current system, it is also impossible for cross-national databases to be searched using biometric data, such as fingerprints.
The authors of the document, drawn up by the European commission's security union taskforce, write that the Schengen Border Code "did not allow for the systematic consultation" of national and international databases, leaving the security services unable to carry out basic checks that could have avoided the ensuing bloodshed.
"Another shared aspect of many of the recent attacks is movement within the EU, be it by the perpetrators or their supporters in preparation for an attack or subsequent escape; or to traffic the means that support terrorists, such as illegal firearms and explosives", they write. "This raises the question of whether more can be done to enhance security within the Schengen area. This could include action to enhance police checks in internal border regions and along main transport routes."
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is suspected of being the overall field commander behind the Paris attacks in 2015, was the subject of both a European and an international arrest warrant, yet travelled from Belgium to Syria via Egypt in March 2013 before returning to Europe. He then left for Syria again, taking a flight from Cologne to Istanbul.
Anis Amri, who murdered 12 people last December by driving a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, was a failed asylum seeker in Italy, who later entered Germany from Switzerland despite being a suspected terrorist. He used various aliases to avoid detection.
The taskforce further warns of failings in the sharing of information between member states about individuals who are believed to be a risk. "Many of the individuals involved in recent terrorist attacks in the EU had [mostly petty] criminal records," the taskforce writes.
"A further common element between recent attacks is the appearance of many of the suspects on surveillance lists, especially national watch lists. In a number of cases, perpetrators were subject to SIS [Schengen informaton system] alerts, which are an important tool in the detection of suspected terrorists.
"The number of alerts has significantly increased in the last two years, but there remain differences between the way in which member states use the system, including a lack of consistency in the use of SIS alerts. Should an obligation for information sharing be introduced for all existing EU security databases? Should those databases be searchable by biometric as well as alphanumeric data?"
According to the taskforce, the European commission is now assessing the feasibility of establishing a European police record information system, so that national police forces' information is collated centrally. It is the commission's intention to pilot a project under which security services can ask the new EU system to confirm whether someone has a criminal record in any of the member states.
The European parliament will debate the EU's ability to secure its citizens on Wednesday to mark the coming anniversary of the attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people, along with the three suicide bombers.(Source: The Guardian)