EU coordinator for the fight against terrorism was in Lisbon for a discreet meeting with government and police. The Dairio de Noticais interviewed him

The European Union (EU) counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerkhove, was in Lisbon yesterday in a discreet visit. He met with the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, the Secretary General of the Internal Security System and senior officials of security forces and services. In an exclusive interview with the Dairio de Noticais DN, when he was at the airport, he said that he left the country “satisfied” for having verified that “they are all aware of the risks and the measures to be taken” to face the one that considers the greatest threat, at the moment, to the Internal security: the return of the jihadists.

“The return of European jihadis is a major concern for the security of the EU. To what extent are countries mobilized?

We are talking about about three thousand European jihadists, who are still in Syria and Iraq, which is a very significant number. We do not know how many are going to die, (our estimate indicates about 20%), nor do we know where the survivors will go. We are working in various fields. The first is to reinforce, at all levels, the sharing of information, not just with names of suspects, or biometric data, but also with regard to all supplementary information. For example, if someone returns to Portugal after having been in Syria or Iraq, that person’s level of danger must be recorded. Secondly, cooperation with third countries, such as Turkey, has been a gateway to Syria and Iraq and will certainly be one of the ways back from the battlefields. The third is to have an effective risk profile assessment methodology, which can be financially supported by the EU. Fourth, an element of enormous importance, rehabilitation programs. It will be difficult to get evidence that someone has been fighting for daesh or in the army of jabat al nusra. When we have no evidence to judge, the alternative can be a 24-hour surveillance of that person, which requires a lot of resources from the security forces. The other hypothesis is rehabilitation programs, always better than detention because prisons are an incubator of radicalization.

Countries such as Portugal, where the level of threat is reduced, must also adopt strong security measures?

Of course yes. I was this morning (Friday) in a meeting with the ministers of Justice (Francisca Van Dunem) and the Internal Administration (Constança Urbano de Sousa), with the Secretary General of the Internal Security System (Helena Fazenda) and with senior police. All this was discussed and I was impressed by the seriousness with which this issue is being addressed in Portugal. There is a full awareness of the problem and a mobilization to confront it. And the main reason why Portugal has to be prepared is because it belongs to the Shengen area and one cannot imagine a situation where Portugal lost control in the fountains, for example, leading to pressure from migrants wanting to enter the EU.

The EU has been working with an NGO, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (ICJA) which has collected thousands of evidence of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Syria and Iraq. Is this work important for the judicial actions that are ongoing in the countries in relation to the jihadists?

Your role is decisive. We are working hard to sustain ways to bring daesh to justice. Evidence has to be collected and preserved. We have ongoing projects to support Iraqi government to collect evidence, but also, in other planes, such as the creation of hybrid courts in the region to try these cases.


Is it a special court to try European jihadists?

For all those who have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. There are several options we are working on, including the involvement of the International Criminal Court, hybrid courts … But coming back to your question, CIJA is doing a fantastic job, supporting it financially, I’ve already seen the evidence database Which it managed to build and is very impressive. I will do everything I can to support the member states in their legal proceedings to bring these jihadists to justice.

Has Portugal been informed about this capacity and is it open to this possibility?

Yes of course. We also discussed this in the meeting, in which the CIJA was also present.

In a recent report, Europol warns of attempts by DHS to infiltrate terrorists into the influx of refugees entering Europe. Portugal is one of the countries that has received more refugees from Syria. What is the real risk?

The cases are very punctual. We know, of course, that some of the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels used this route to enter Europe, but also used false documents. We have worked on mechanisms to prevent this from happening. There is systematic monitoring of EU citizens whenever they cross the EU’s external borders, the detection of false documents has been improved. We have ensured that all member states systematically check names in Interpol databases on the basis of misplaced and stolen documents,in the Shengen information system and we are also improving biometric control.

In addition, all security control of refugee centers in Greece in Italy is reinforced with teams from Europol, Eurojust, Frontex, liaison officers from the various countries. All this to avoid this toxic connection to which he referred, with terrorists wanting to take advantage of this situation. We want to ensure that Europe remains a place where people in danger can find protection”.