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Europe Can Improve Counterterrorism Measures, US Official Says - 2004-04-01

The March 11 terrorist attack in Madrid not only shocked Europe, it spawned fresh European Union action to battle terrorism. While the Bush administration applauds such efforts, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official says there is still room for much improvement in Europe.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate's European affairs sub-Commmittee Wednesday, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Cofer Black, said cooperation between the United States and Europe has foiled several potentially horrific terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001.

"The capabilities of our Western European partners are excellent. European intelligence and security forces are well aware of the threat posed by Islamic extremism, and generally do an effective job of monitoring extremists," says Mr. Black.

But Ambassador Black says some deficiencies in Europe's counterterrorism efforts remain. "All of us, including the United States, need to improve coordination between our law enforcement and intelligence agencies," he says.

Mr. Black says some European countries cannot successfully prosecute and imprison terrorists who appear in their courts. He says the European Union has been reluctant to block the assets of charities related to terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbolla. He also says all EU members must better control their borders and ratify all United Nations counter-terrorism treaties. Senator Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, reminded Ambassador Black it may not be Washington's place to tell Europeans how to run their courts. But he said he believes the Madrid blasts have strengthened European resolve to join the United States to defeat the terrorists.

Biden: I have not seen a single scintilla of evidence of any of your counterparts anywhere in Europe saying 'God, we better get out of the business of being in the U.S.. We don't want to be targets.' Have you seen anything like that?

Black: Since Madrid, I think everyone in Europe associated with counter-terrorism, whether they are practitioners or politicians, certainly have been more attuned to this threat and certainly realize that they're in a fight now.

Ambassador Black said the Madrid attacks have also made many Europeans understand that laying low in the fight against terrorism does not make you immune to an attack.