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Thursday, March 4th, 2021

European counterterrorism legislation calls for protecting victims of CBRN attacks

The European Parliament has taken an important step toward protecting victims of potential biological, chemical and other types of terrorist attacks in the European Union with its new draft counterterrorism directive that is being negotiated this week.

The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee approved amendments to its directive on combatting terrorism on July 4, aiming to criminalize the planning of terrorist attacks and strengthen victims’ rights. The draft counterterrorism directive was first presented by the European Commission late last year in response to the November attacks in Paris.

“The threat of terrorism is real,” Romanian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Monica Macovei told Homeland Preparedness News. “It happened. And it could be only the beginning, so we have to be prepared. We are already quite late in these preparations so this directive is needed and it is welcome.”

Macovei said that she is confident that member states will agree to adopt the amendments in the draft directive.

“Member states see the danger,” Macovei said.

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes added that the legislation includes a number of critical recommendations to combat terror. One such recommendation highlights CBRN terrorist attacks, she said in an interview, referring to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

Combatting terror attacks is made more complicated by the threat of so-called lone wolves who intend to commit a terrorist act on their own.

“It’s a matter of time before anyone could seek to use the existing easy means to actually launch a terrorist attack” with a biological or chemical substance, Gomes said. “It could be anthrax but there are also many other possibilities.”

“It is clear that Daesh and other terrorist groups have long harbored ambitions to launch CBRN attacks,” Gilles de Kerchove, EU counterterrorism coordinator, said in written remarks to Homeland Preparedness News. “Indeed there is clear evidence from Syria and Iraq that Daesh has used chemical weapon munitions. EU and member states regularly discuss how they can effectively combat this threat.”

The European Parliament’s Chief Negotiator Monika Hohlmeier has a mandate to negotiate the final text of the counterterrorism directive with the European Council, which includes heads of state for 28 EU member governments. An exception is Denmark, which will not participate in the negotiations on the directive. The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, serves as a facilitator in the negotiations.

Negotiations began this week and will likely continue after the summer recess in September.

The directive is considered a vital tool in preventing terrorism by criminalizing acts related to preparing for an attack, such as traveling abroad for the purpose of participating in a terrorist group. Receiving training with the intent to make explosives, firearms, or noxious or hazardous substances would also be a criminal act, as would public incitement or praise of terrorism and financing of terrorist activities.

The counterterrorism directive also seeks to offer a broad range of help for terror victims. EU member states would need to ensure that specific services to assist and support victims of terrorism are in place. Support would include medical and physical treatment, including countermeasures for nuclear, biological or chemical attacks.

The directive would also provide emotional and psychological support, such as counseling, as well as legal advice, to victims. Support would extend to victims who returned to their home countries if they were caught in a terrorist attack while visiting another EU country.

Hohlmeier said during a press conference after the vote that the legislation calls upon member states to use their best efforts to avoid a wide range of terrorist threats, such as biological, chemical or nuclear threats. She added that it is important for member states to protect their citizens as much as possible from these types of terror attacks.

Gomes said that current action plans by member states to combat potential CBRN attacks are flawed.

“I don’t know that there have been very serious preparations for the possibility that a biological attack could take place – to prevent it, to prepare, to respond to it – I’m not aware that a majority of our members are really doing what it takes,” Gomes said.

Additionally, today’s drone technology heightens the need for more stringent terrorism countermeasures.

“It can be quite easy to weaponize a drone with biological substances,” Gomes added.

Some of the important changes that member states need to make to combat terror, Gomes said, are improving information gathering from intelligence services, more training for police, and strengthening the interoperability among different types of law enforcement agencies.