EU unveils plans to choke off terror financing
BRUSSELS - The European Commission unveiled plans on Tuesday to choke off financing of terrorist groups, with France pushing hard for a crackdown after last year's deadly attacks in Paris.
The Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, detailed the plans in the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg.
"We have to cut off the resources that terrorists use to carry out their heinous crimes," Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in a statement.
"By detecting and disrupting the financing of terrorist networks, we can reduce their ability to travel, to buy weapons and explosives, to plot attacks and to spread hate and fear online," he said.
The raft of measures include stepping up efforts to track money flowing through suspicious countries as well as building a better understanding of how terrorist groups use virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin.
"I am satisfied that the European Commission adopted the complete action plan that is largely inspired by our proposal and answers all our demands," said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.
The French government last month sharply criticised the commission for taking too long to roll out the proposals.
France called for the tougher counter-terror measures following attacks against the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in January last year which left 17 people dead.
That urgency rose markedly after November's gun and bomb rampage across Paris, which claimed 130 lives and left hundreds more wounded.
The commission hopes most of the proposals can be implemented by the end of the year and will put them forward to EU finance ministers next week for discussion.
"We remain determined in this race against the clock against terrorism," Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in an email.
The proposals also include a crackdown on the sources of revenue for terrorist organisations, mainly Islamic State jihadists, that include the illicit trade in cultural goods and wildlife.
Prepaid cards, which the French authorities said were used to pay for cars and apartments used by the perpetrators of the November attacks, serve as an anonymous alternative to traditional bank cards.
Stamped with a Visa or Mastercard logo and requiring a secret code, they allow users to withdraw cash from ATM machines, make purchases from stores or on-line sites, much like classic bank cards.
Virtual money like Bitcoin allows people to anonymously make cross-border transactions without oversight from finance watchdogs or intelligence services.