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European Ministers Hold Meeting In Brussels After Terror Attacks


European ministers in charge of security held an emergency summit today in Brussels. It was called in response to Tuesday's deadly bombings in that city. The 28 members of the European Union are at odds over how best to prevent future terrorist attacks across Europe. It's frustrating many of those involved in the meeting, including EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.


AVRAMOPOULOS: Let me be very clear. I think it's the moment to pass from words to action. The life of our citizens, safety of our citizens is at stake.

CORNISH: We turn now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who is in Brussels. And Soraya, what do you think is the headline out of this meeting so far?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, not surprisingly, the 28 member states have committed to fighting terrorism, and each one of them knows what they need to do and that it needs to be done quickly given, you know, the frequency of these attacks these days.

For example, by April, the plan is to adopt a directive to share airline passenger records between European countries. And there's also going to be an international team of agents to sort of facilitate the exchange of intel, which is the countries' - or these countries', I should say - biggest priority. But the problem is they've pledged to coordinate before many times, including after the Paris attacks, and then there's slow follow-up.

CORNISH: And you can hear the migration commissioner there saying, I think it's the moment to pass from words to actions. How would you describe the mood of the ministers there in Brussels?

NELSON: Well, there certainly was a lot of frustration, as you heard, in the commissioner's voice. They - it wasn't a very happy meeting to begin with. I mean, clearly this was something that was called very quickly because of these attacks, so there was a lot of sympathy expressed for the Belgians and expressions of solidarity with their fellow ministers. And there was a lot of fear about whether other European capitals will be next.

But definitely dominating was the frustration. A number of the ministers were going into the meeting expressing that frustration. The German interior minister tried to be polite, said he didn't want to criticize his neighbors but that member states need to accept that the only way that they're going to win this war on terror is to work jointly and pool intelligence that's gathered.

CORNISH: But what are some the differences here? I mean, when you look at these EU member states, are some countries actually better at sharing intelligence information than others?

NELSON: Certainly that's the case. The Austrian interior minister, for example, noted that the bloc's so-called jihadist databank - that in this databank, 90 percent of the information was being provided by five countries. And you have to remember that there are 28 countries in the European Union.

And amazingly enough, one of the countries that's noted for not being so cooperative is Belgium. But that also may have to do more with the fragmented makeup of the society - you know, the fact that their - you have people here who speak so many different languages rather than some sort of intentional refusal to cooperate.

So for example, the Brussels area alone has 19 municipalities and 1 million people but has six separate police zones. When you compare that to all of New York City, which has 8.4 million people, there is one police force there.

CORNISH: I want to talk more about that information sharing because we've been hearing that one of the suspects in the Brussels attacks was actually deported from Turkey back to Europe. Now, the Turks say that they warned both the Netherlands and Belgium that this guy was a jihadist. And I want to know if there was more conversation about this at the summit.

NELSON: This was definitely a topic of conversation and even in Belgium in general. The Belgian justice minister today said in a TV interview - and it was rather surprising - that authorities had made a mistake and weren't diligent enough in following up.

But he denies that Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, you know, the individual who was - returned, was flagged as a terrorist like the Turks claim. But he and the interior minister did offer to resign, although the offer was rejected.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, Soraya, there was some news today about a suspect in last year's Paris attacks, a man named Salah Abdeslam. He was arrested last week in Brussels. What's the latest with him?

NELSON: Well, it was very interesting today. His defense attorney delayed or adjourned a meeting that was going to decide whether he would be held another month in custody in Belgium and said Abdeslam has decided not to fight extradition, that he wants to go back to France, his native country and explain himself to authorities.

CORNISH: That NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Brussels. Thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.