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Germany wants to close borders for jihadists

October 2, 2014

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s top security official said Thursday that Europe’s system of passport-free travel needs to be changed to prevent Islamic extremists crossing borders undetected.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said anyone suspected of intending to join extremist groups in Syria or Iraq should trigger an alarm when they travel in and out of the Schengen Area — which covers 26 countries from the Arctic to the Mediterranean — in the same way that suspected drug dealers do.

“The information that someone is a so-called foreign fighter needs to be more easily recognizable for border authorities,” de Maiziere told reporters after a visit to Germany’s Joint Counter-Terrorism Center in Berlin.

More than 2,000 Europeans, including at least 450 people from Germany, have joined the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations in recent years. Authorities in Europe have taken steps to clamp down on their movement, which has been facilitated by the abolition of border controls throughout much of the continent.

Although border controls are still in force on the periphery of the Schengen Area, in practice not everyone’s passport is screened.

“We also have to ensure that the relevant group of persons is actually checked,” de Maiziere said.

He didn’t reveal how authorities would designate someone a suspected Islamic extremist if they haven’t been convicted of a crime, or whether Turkey — the main transit country for jihadists — would have access to the Schengen database.

Turkish authorities don’t see this information, though Ankara claims to have a list of thousands of Europeans who should be turned away from its borders.

German authorities are currently investigating about 280 suspected Islamic extremists, said de Maiziere. The number has grown since Germany recently decreed that propaganda activity on behalf of the Islamic State group should be a criminal offense. The move has made it easier for authorities to seize suspects’ travel documents.

Update hourly