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A soldier patrols outside a synagogue in Paris, Monday. AP Photo/Jacques Brinon

Counter-terror chief: We can't stop all attacks without becoming a totalitarian society

Gilles de Kerchove also warned that Europe’s prisons have become a ‘massive incubator’ for radicalisation.

THE EU’S COUNTER-TERRORISM chief has said it is impossible to completely prevent new Islamist attacks like those in Paris, and warned that Europe’s prisons have become a “massive incubator” for radicalisation.

The head of European police agency Europol, Rob Wainwright, meanwhile told British lawmakers on Tuesday that between 3,000 and 5,000 EU nationals have joined jihadist ranks.

“We’re dealing with a large body of mainly young men who have the potential to come back and have the potential or intent and capability to carry out attacks we have seen in Paris in the last week,” he said.

Wainwright also called for greater scrutiny of the use of social media by jihadist groups:

We have to have a closer, much more productive relationship between law enforcement and technology firms. One of the important evolutions we’re seeing right now in the current terrorist threat is the way the Internet is used, clearly much more aggressively, much more imaginatively by the networks.

Gilles de Kerchove told AFP that the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda wanted to launch more attacks on the West like the Islamist assault on the French capital last week in which 17 people were killed over three says.

“We can’t prevent (such attacks) 100%,” de Kerchove said in an interview in Brussels, two days after meeting European, US and Canadian security ministers in Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and linked attacks.

It’s a real challenge but one can try to prevent them as much as possible without becoming a totalitarian society.

Balancing security needs and personal freedoms is a sensitive issue in Europe, parts of which have in the past experienced totalitarian Nazi and Communist rule.

Backing some of de Kerchove’s points, European Union President Donald Tusk called for a “coherent security policy” across the 28-country bloc, while protecting democratic freedoms.

The former Polish premier, speaking at the European parliament in Strasbourg, called for an EU-wide Passenger Name Record system, a controversial idea opposed by the parliament on the grounds it breaches privacy rules.

Sky News / YouTube

New footage of last week’s attack emerged today.

The proposed system would create a central database pooling details on people aboard flights, allowing faster exchange of information about foreign fighters returning to Europe, radicalised and well-trained from the war-zones of the Middle East.

The three French citizens responsible for the Paris attacks are believed to have had links with various jihadist groups in Yemen and Syria.

De Kerchove warned that the Al-Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, is also looking for “clean skins,” Europeans with valid passports and no record of radical activity, to mount attacks in Europe.

The EU anti-terror chief warned that it was better to try to rehabilitate jihadists, including those returning to Europe from Syria and Iraq, than to jail them.

Both Mohamed Merah, the Al-Qaeda militant who shot dead seven people in a series of 2012 attacks, and Mehdi Nemmouche, last year’s Brussels Jewish museum killer, were also turned to radical Islam in jail.

© AFP 2015

Read: Perhaps the world’s greatest national anthem, sung for the victims of the Paris attacks >

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