EU to harmonise anti-terror laws in new drive to stamp out attacks

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Sweeping anti-terrorist measures, including plans for Europe-wide arrest warrants, will be unveiled in Brussels today when the 15 EU nations plan a co-ordinated response to the attacks on America.

The European Commission will propose a new system of arrest warrants for serious crimes across Europe to help crack down on terrorist cells. And tomorrow Europe's justice and interior ministers will also discuss a new network of anti-terrorism liaison officers, a bigger role for Europol, the EU's police information-sharing headquarters, and closer collaboration on security precautions.

EU leaders are likely to endorse the moves when they meet in Brussels at an emergency summit on Friday. The proposals aim to revolutionise judicial co-operation between member states and to draw up a common definition for terrorism. Efforts to combat terrorism inside the EU are hampered by differences in law from country to country; only six of the 15 countries have laws that refer to "terrorism" or "terrorists" while the rest use more general laws to prosecute suspects.

The initiative to harmonise laws has been given added impetus by the attacks on the US and has won support among countries such as Britain, which might normally be suspicious of yielding sovereignty to the EU. The basis of a new agreement will be consensus on what constitutes terrorism. The Commission will put forward a broad definition, which includes cyber and environmental attacks. It also hopes to lay down a Europe-wide agreement on maximum sentences which, in the most serious incidents, would be life in prison. Warrants issued in one country for terrorist offences would be recognised by other EU countries and replace extradition, if the proposals are adopted.

An EU official said: "It will be the first time there will be automatic mutual recognition of judgments. This is the first step in achieving European cooperation on justice."

EU policy makers see an important new role for Europol in combating international terrorism throughout the EU.

At the meeting of justice and home affairs ministers tomorrow they are expected to discuss the possible extension of Europol's mandate to allow it to work more closely with the authorities in America.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, flew to Brussels yesterday for talks ahead of Friday's summit. British officials said Britain would support a new package of anti-terrorist measures.

Other ideas likely to be discussed tomorrow include mutual recognition of orders freezing the assets of terrorist suspects, and EU-wide lists of which terrorist groups should be banned organisations.

Because of the attacks on America and the support offered by European countries, there may be a move to extend co- operation between the EU and the US on counter-terrorism. And there may be calls for all 15 member states to sign up to and implement the United Nations' International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, which lays down cross-border procedures.