Greek security officials have been placed on high alert due to concerns that Islamic State jihadists who have escaped from North Syrian prison may seek their repatriation in Europe, using Greece as a bridge. In cooperation with the Europol, the Greeks will try to tighten security in the country’s land and sea borders.
According to a report by daily kathimerini, counter-terrorism experts from Europol will be deployed in the Evros border region on November 1, as part of the effort to tighten security and to intercept, with the help of European Police Service databases, jihadists who are intent on crossing into Greece.
Essentially, the measure is an extension of the institution of guest officers which came into effect in the summer of 2016 on the islands of the eastern Aegean, in the aftermath of the bloody attacks in Paris and Brussels.
The first contacts and negotiations for the deployment of Europol officials in the Evros region had been made in December 2018 between the Belgian executive director of Europol, Catherine De Bolle, and the then inspector general for aliens and border protection, Police Lieutenant General Zacharoula Tsirigoti.
Moreover, police sources revealed to kathimerini that officials at the Aliens Bureau have updated and activated so-called “risk indicators” that are taken into consideration when newly arrived migrants and refugees are registered.
Speaking to Kathimerini on the condition of anonymity, a Greek official confirmed “there is concern about the repatriation of so-called foreign fighters.”
He added, however, that authorities in the US and Europe “have information and are monitoring which European jihadists remain detained and which have escaped and may be attempting to return home.”
For Greek security and intelligence officials, however, a greater threat than the prospect of the repatriation of European “militants” is the risk of radicalization of foreigners held in the country’s detention and accommodation structures. Poor living conditions in the camps, coupled with the inability of foreigners to continue their journey to destination countries, such as Germany, it is possible to push people into violent acts in the name of religion.
In August, the US special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, announced that 7,000 Islamic State fighters were being held in northeastern Syria by SDF-guarded prisons.
An estimated 1,000 of these are European citizens who traveled to Syria in previous years to take part in the “holy war” of the so-called caliphate set up by Islamic State, the Greek daily notes.
Alpha TV reported that the jihadists have changed their appearance and are mignling with other refugees and migrants “shaved and properly dressed.”