France, Belgium Increase Anti-Terror Drive

France, Belgium Increase Anti-Terror DriveFrance, Belgium Increase Anti-Terror Drive

The prime ministers of France and Belgium have met in Brussels to announce increased cooperation against terrorism. A proposed Passenger Name Record program would help track air travelers.

The efforts are to include increased information-sharing on potential militants and accelerated efforts to prevent document forgery, AFP reported.

Monday’s meeting comes two-and-a-half months after extremists killed 130 people in a series of attacks across Paris. The assault strained relations between the two countries, with France angry over perceived intelligence failings by Belgium ahead of the attacks.

In addition to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel, the prime ministers were joined by their respective justice ministers and security chiefs.

“The threat is at unprecedented levels,” Valls told a joint press conference in Brussels after the meeting. “We are standing shoulder to shoulder together against this threat to protect our citizens.”

In addition to accelerating the exchange of information between police and justice officials, the two countries plan to use more biometric data to stem the flow of forged documents and examine more closely encrypted messaging services.

The two also agreed to push for a European-wide PNR program that would track air travelers.

“This concerns Europe and all its member states,” Valls said. “Everybody has to be engaged as they have a joint responsibility.”

Belgium has come under international criticism , as well, for being something of a breeding ground for extremists. Per capita, more Belgian citizens have gone off to fight alongside the terrorists in Syria and Iraq than any other European country.

But Michel insisted “Belgium is not a lawless area” after reports found some of the Paris assailants and their accomplices came from the immigrant neighborhood of Molenbeek, in the Belgian capital.

The self-styled Islamic State militant group claims four of the nine terrorists were of Belgian origin, including one of the alleged organizers, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. He was killed in a raid by French police, just days after the Paris attacks.

Since the mid-November killings , police have arrested and charged 11 people in Belgium in connection with the attack. But one key suspect, Salah Abdeslam, and his accomplice Mohamed Abrini, who are both from Molenbeek, are still at large.

A French official said both sides will study “what actions can be taken” to fight terrorism at the European Union level and in the 26-nation Schengen zone, which includes most EU countries.