EU seeks Muslim anti-terror help after Paris attacks

EU seeks Muslim anti-terror help after Paris attacks

Brussels (AFP) - EU foreign ministers called Monday for an alliance with Muslim countries to fight the growing Islamist militant threat as anger over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons fed fresh protests and violence.

Foreign policy head Federica Mogherini met Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi to urge better cooperation in the wake of last week's deadly Paris attacks and anti-terrorism raids in Belgium.

On the other side of a widening divide, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Russia's Chechnya while dozens of churches were torched in Niger during protests over the publication of the Prophet Mohammed caricatures.

In jittery Brussels, where Belgian troops guarded the EU headquarters and other sensitive buildings, ministers were discussing how to prevent battle-hardened jihadis returning home from the Syria and Iraq.

"Terrorism and terrorist attacks are targeting most of all Muslims in the world so we need an alliance," Mogherini told reporters.

"We need to strengthen our way of cooperating together, first of all with Arab countries but also internally. The threat is not only the one we faced in Paris but also spreading in many other parts of the world."

Al-Arabi, the Arab League secretary general, added that "every country in the world is suffering from terrorism."

"It is not just a military or security issue, it covers the intellectual, cultural, media and religious spheres and that is what we are trying to get," he said.

- Europe on alert -

Europe is on high alert after three French gunmen killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris earlier this month, claiming they were acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. Two suspected militants were also killed in a police raid in Belgium on Thursday.

Many of the ministers will meet again on Thursday in London when US Secretary of State John Kerry co-hosts talks with some 20 countries, including Arab states.

The EU meeting Monday was to prepare for a special European summit on February 12 dedicated to fighting terrorism.

But so far many EU states have been reluctant to open up their intelligence networks to anyone except their most trusted allies for fear of harmful leaks, let alone with the Arab world.

Efforts to push through a system for exchanging air passenger information which many states say would help track suspected militants have also been held up by a sceptical European Parliament.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said however in Brussels that the Paris attacks had "changed Europe and the world", calling for "possibly increased exchanges with Muslim countries."

His British counterpart Philip Hammond made the same point and pressed the need for progress on the passenger data system.

In London, however, the government found itself embroiled in a damaging spat over a letter sent to British imams with its call for community leaders to do more to root out extremism.

- Belgium seeks mastermind -

Belgian authorities meanwhile were still hunting for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the brains behind an Islamist cell plotting to kill Belgian police that was broken up last week.

Greek prosecutors will consider Monday a Beglian extradition request for a suspect arrested in Athens on Saturday who could be linked to the cell.

In Germany, police banned a rally by the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement in the eastern city of Dresden after a reported threat from IS on the movement's leader Lutz Bachmann.

Denmark was due on Monday to host its first march by PEGIDA, whose rallies have spread rapidly since they started in October.

But in the Muslim world anger still raged at the publication of a new Prophet Mohammed cartoon on the front of Charlie Hebdo's comeback issue last week.

Russia's interior ministry claimed 800,000 people had flooded into Grozny, the capital of the Muslim province of Chechnya -- three-quarters of the republic's population -- to demonstrate.

"We say firmly that we will never allow anyone to go unpunished for insulting the name of the Prophet and our religion," strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov told the crowd.

In Niger, 45 churches were torched over the weekend and five people killed in protests against the cartoons.