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November 21, 2015

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EU nations to tighten checks at passport-free Schengen borders

EU nations agreed yesterday to immediately tighten checks on all travellers, including European nationals, at the external borders of the passport-free Schengen area following the Paris attacks, European sources said.

Interior ministers from the 28-nation European Union, holding an emergency meeting in Brussels, also backed France’s call for a fundamental revision of the Schengen deal to allow the “systematic” controlling of EU citizens at borders, the sources said.

“Member states undertake to implement immediately the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement,” a draft copy of a statement from the meeting said.

The Paris attacks in which 129 people died have raised troubling questions about border security in the Schengen zone, where citizens of 22 EU countries, plus non-EU Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein enjoy passport-free travel. Schengen has come under scrutiny following the revelations that some of the Paris attackers came from Belgium, and that alleged ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud may have come back from fighting with IS in Syria to take part before his death in a police raid on Wednesday.

EU officials said travelers will now not only have their passports examined but have their personal information checked with databases.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin suspected of masterminding the attacks, died in Wednesday’s assault by police on an apartment in northern Paris. The 28-year-old was thought to have been in Syria, where he had boasted of planning attacks on the West, and his presence in France has raised questions about Europe’s handling of the region’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Paris had received no warning from other EU members that Abaaoud was in the bloc, and it was “urgent that Europe wakes up, organizes itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat.”

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said some of the killers in the Paris attacks had taken advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to “slip in” unnoticed and warned the cherished Schengen zone would be in danger if the bloc did not improve border controls.

Abaaoud’s links to Syria and the discovery of a Syrian passport near the dead body of one of the gunmen have also stoked concerns elsewhere that jihadists could be posing as refugees from the war-torn country as a cover for plotting attacks.

In the US, the Republican-dominated Congress on Thursday voted to ban Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States until tougher screening measures are in place. And in Russia, itself still reeling after a Russian passenger plane was downed in Egypt killing 224 people on board in another attack claimed by IS, both chambers of parliament will hold extraordinary meeting on tacking terrorism.

Abaaoud was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by Belgium, where a court had in July sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison for recruiting jihadists for Syria.



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