BRUSSELS (Reuters) - France and Belgium vowed on Monday to intensify cooperation in the fight against Islamist radicals, including a more rapid exchange of information on potential militants and efforts to prevent forgery of documents.
Two and a half months after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, the two countries’ prime ministers sought to improve ties strained by French accusations that neighbor Belgium had overlooked jihadists preparing to attack the French capital.
“The threat is at unprecedented levels,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told a joint press conference in Brussels after the meeting, which also included ministers of justice and heads of security services.
“We are standing shoulder to shoulder together against this threat to protect our citizens,” he added
Apart from smoothing the information exchange between police and justice authorities, Brussels and Paris will use more biometric data to prevent forged documents and consult international IT companies about encrypted messaging services.
The two countries would also push for the swift introduction within the European Union of “PNR” (Passenger Name Record) files to keep track of airline travelers.
“This concerns Europe and all its member states. Everybody has to be engaged as they have a joint responsibility,” Valls said.
For Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, the meeting was part of an effort to deflect international criticism of Belgium, seen by some as a jihadist hotbed.
Per capita, Belgium is the European country that has contributed the most people to fight alongside militant groups such as Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Belgium has carried out a series of raids since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks and is now holding 10 people on terrorism changes related to the coordinated shooting and suicide bombings.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Tom Heneghan