* Interior, justice ministers want passenger data sharing
* Say they want to monitor European fighters going to Syria
* EU lawmakers rejected data sharing scheme in April
By Alexandria Sage
PARIS, Aug 1 Nine European Union nations urged
the European Parliament on Thursday to set aside privacy
concerns and back plans for an EU-wide passenger data list aimed
at thwarting suspected militants travelling from Europe to fight
EU governments say hundreds of their citizens are joining
rebel forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They
fear some of these newly-trained fighters - estimated at up to
600 people - will return home to carry out attacks in Europe.
Complicating authorities' efforts to track the potential
extremists is the absence of a European system to store airline
passengers' personal details. Experts believe most Europeans fly
to Turkey before crossing the porous border into Syria.
Concerned about privacy rights, the European Parliament in
April rejected a plan that would have set up a "Passenger Name
Record" (PNI) with phone numbers, addresses and credit card
details of passengers entering or leaving the EU. Airlines would
have been required to furnish the information to governments.
Such information is already shared with the United States
but not among all EU states. Sixteen EU governments collect
passenger data but do not pass it on to their neighbours.
The interior ministers of France and Belgium, Manuel Valls
and Joelle Milquet, said in a joint statement they and ministers
from seven other EU nations would petition the European
Parliament committee which is now re-examining the text.
Besides France and Belgium, ministers from Germany, Italy,
Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Britain and Sweden signed a
letter addressed to the head of the parliamentary committee on
justice and home affairs, Jose Lopez-Aguillar. A copy of the
letter was not immediately available.
The letter underlined "the importance, for the security of
the European Union and those who live within it, of being able
to quickly have at our disposal a PNR system offering a high
level of privacy protection," the statement said.
The EU's counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove,
called in May for urgent action to counter what he called the
"serious problem" of 'jihadists' travelling from Europe to Syria
in large numbers.
One of 22 measures de Kerchove suggested was to highlight to
the European Parliament the importance of a PNR system that
would allow member states to track suspicious travel movements.
The issue is particularly worrying in France, which has been
on heightened security alert since January, when it intervened
in Mali to repel al Qaeda-linked rebels.
"Maybe 50 (French nationals) are still on the ground (in
Syria), 40 are in transit and about 30 have returned and are
under surveillance by our services," Valls said last month,
adding that a "handful" had been killed in fighting.
In June, police arrested about a dozen people from two
suspected cells who they said were preparing to fight in Syria.
The extent of the problem surfaced in July when a video
posted on YouTube showed a 30-year-old French convert to Islam,
accompanied by his younger brother, exhorting his "Muslim
brothers" to join him in Syria to take up Jihad.
The man from the southern city of Toulouse had been under
surveillance by police for a year, according to French media,
before travelling to Syria via Spain, Tunisia and Turkey.
More than 100,000 people have been killed and nearly two
million have fled abroad since the Syrian uprising against Assad
began 28 months ago.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)