Brussels: The EU`s counter-terrorism chief said Tuesday it is impossible to completely prevent new Islamist attacks like those in Paris, and warned that Europe`s prisons have become a "massive incubator" for radicalisation.
Gilles de Kerchove told AFP that the Islamic State group and al Qaeda wanted to launch more attacks on the West like the Islamist assault on the French capital last week in which 17 people were killed over three says.
"We can`t prevent (such attacks) 100 percent," de Kerchove said in an interview in Brussels, two days after meeting European, US and Canadian security ministers in Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and linked attacks.
Backing some of de Kerchove`s points, European Union President Donald Tusk called for a "coherent security policy" across the 28-country bloc, while protecting democratic freedoms.
The former Polish premier, speaking at the European parliament in Strasbourg, called for an EU-wide Passenger Name Record system, a controversial idea opposed by the parliament on the grounds it breaches privacy rules.
The proposed system would create a central database pooling details on people aboard flights, allowing faster exchange of information about foreign fighters returning to Europe, radicalised and well-trained from the war-zones of the Middle East.The head of European police agency Europol, Rob Wainwright, meanwhile told British lawmakers on Tuesday that between 3,000 and 5,000 EU nationals have joined jihadist ranks.
The three French citizens responsible for the Paris attacks are believed to have had links with various jihadist groups in Yemen and Syria.
De Kerchove warned that the Al-Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, is also looking for "clean skins," Europeans with valid passports and no record of radical activity, to mount attacks in Europe.
He also said that weapons from the Balkans and Libya were being sold in Europe and it was extremely difficult to prevent "crazy people" from obtaining them and carrying out attacks if they wanted to.
"It`s a real challenge but one can try to prevent them as much as possible without becoming a totalitarian society," he said.
Balancing security needs and personal freedoms is a sensitive issue in Europe, parts of which have in the past experienced totalitarian Nazi and Communist rule.The EU anti-terror chief warned that it was better to try to rehabilitate jihadists, including those returning to Europe from Syria and Iraq, than to jail them.
Two of the Paris gunmen -- Cherif Kouachi, one of the brothers who massacred 12 people in an attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and Amedy Coulibaly, the Islamist who killed four hostages at a Jewish supermarket in Paris last week -- were both believed to be have been radicalised in prison.
Both Mohamed Merah, the Al-Qaeda militant who shot dead seven people in a series of 2012 attacks, and Mehdi Nemmouche, last year`s Brussels Jewish museum killer, were also turned to radical Islam in jail.
"We know that prisons are a massive incubator for radicalisation," de Kerchove said.
The problem had become so great that he recommended "not sending all those who return from Syria to prison" because they will inspire other inmates with tales of heroism from the caliphate.
On a positive note, De Kerchove said the social media campaign launched after the Charlie Hebdo attacks may prove to be a counterpoint to the propaganda jihadists use to recruit others.
The "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) hashtag has swept the Internet and the same sign has been carried on posters in mass demonstrations throughout the world.