EU seeks Muslim anti-terror help after Paris attacks

BRUSSELS - EU ministers called Monday for an alliance with Muslim countries to fight the growing Islamist militant threat, with Europe on high alert after the deadly Paris attacks and anti-terrorism raids in Belgium.

As Belgian troops patrolled the streets in the EU headquarters Brussels and other cities, the focus for the 28-nation European Union was how to prevent battle-hardened citizens returning home from the Syria and Iraq.

The Arab League's secretary general was at the talks, which are being held less than two weeks after three French gunmen who caused carnage in Paris claimed they were acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said: "Terrorism and terrorist attacks are targeting most of all Muslims in the world so we need an alliance."

"We need to strengthen our way of cooperating together, first of all with Arab countries but also internally," she told reporters.

"The threat is not only the one we faced in Paris but also spreading in many other parts of the world."

Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi said that "every country in the world is suffering from terrorism" and recalled that the pan-Arab body had called in September for a "global struggle".

"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.

Terror cooperation 

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, on "shared efforts to degrade and defeat" IS militants.

Seventeen people were killed in the attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, a Jewish supermarket and a policewoman. Belgian authorities killed two suspected militants in raids last week.

Belgium has led efforts to forge a European response to the threat and Monday's meeting will help prepare for a special 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.

The European Parliament, concerned about data protection rights, has in turn held up efforts to introduce a system for exchanging air passengers' data in Europe which many states say would help track suspected militants.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said however that the Paris attacks had "changed Europe and the world".

"Today, we must discuss what we must do, including possibly increased exchanges with Muslim countries," Steinmeier said.

His British counterpart Philip Hammond took a similar line, mentioning specifically the need for the passenger data system.

"The Muslim countries of the world are the ones who have suffered the greatest burden of terrorism and they will continue to be in the frontlines," Hammond said.

"We have to work closely with them to protect both those countries and the EU countries."

Separately, ministers agreed Monday that the EU should appeal a controversial court decision in December that ordered the removal of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas from the EU terrorism blacklist.

Belgium seeks mastermind

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

Prosecutors said they would seek the extradition from Greece of 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 and other open-air gatherings planned for Monday in the eastern city of Dresden, saying there was a "concrete threat" of an attack against its leadership.

The group claimed the threat came from IS, with local media reporting that PEGIDA's most prominent leader Lutz Bachmann was the target.

The PEGIDA marches have grown steadily since they began in October and are spreading to other countries with the first Danish march due in Copenhagen on Monday.

In Chechnya, the Muslim region in Russia's North Caucasus, hundreds of thousands of people rallied at a state-sponsored protest against the publication of Prophet Mohammed cartoons.