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Malta, Italy, Greece and Spain have always been ‘staging points for terrorists’

Latest US travel warning made no mention of Malta, which like all Schengen zone countries on the EU’s borders is considered as a ‘staging point for terrorists’ in Washington’s eyes

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
24 November 2015, 1:14pm
All Schengen countries are seen by the USA as possible 'staging points for terrorism'
All Schengen countries are seen by the USA as possible 'staging points for terrorism'
An international travel warning issued by the United States has been conflated in the Maltese media with claims that terrorists could be “hiding” in Malta and seeking passage to Europe.

The island has always been vulnerable to secretive incursions from terrorists carrying out their masters’ bidding – the assassination of the PFLP’s Fathi Shqaqi, a regular visitor to Malta, by Mossad agents in the 1990s is perhaps just one of the more clear cases.

But Malta has long been touted as a “staging point for terrorists” by the United States Department of State, long before Islamic State fighters and radicals started making their way into Europe.

In the eyes of Washington, Malta has always been “increasingly attractive to terrorist organisations seeking entry into Europe” after 9/11, an unchanging script in the Country Reports on Terrorism for various border countries like Malta. Here's the first report issued in 2006, describing the island's counter-terrorism response as "nascent".

But a rare travel warning issued on Monday 23 November for all US citizens appears to be unconnected to what the State Department’s travel profile on Malta – last updated back on 22 April, 2015 – states:

“No indigenous terrorist or extremist groups are known to be active in Malta and no foreign terrorist organization has carried out an attack against U.S. interests in Malta in recent years. Due to its geographic location and status as a Schengen Zone country, Malta could be used as a possible staging point for terrorists desiring to enter other EU countries or as a refuge for terrorists attempting to evade detection. U.S. citizens are reminded to remain alert and aware of their immediate surroundings and exercise caution when out and about in Malta.”

In fact, it’s the same type of warning for Italy, which has made arrests of terror groups, Greece, and Spain. The same script is applied for all Schengen border countries as the first points of entry to non-EU nationals.

What the Department of State did on Monday 23 November was to issue a worldwide travel warning for its citizens, specifying that Islamic State is planning “attacks in multiple regions” after targeting France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali.

This is a rare worldwide alert, by the State Department’s own admission, warning American travellers about the widespread threats posed by members of the Islamic State or copycat bombers, in the wake of the 13 November attacks on Paris perpetrated by Islamic State militants.

And earlier on 29 July, the State Department issued another alert, calling for “worldwide caution”.

It said that Islamic State continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. and Western interests in Europe… Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks in Europe will continue as European members of ISIL return from Syria and Iraq.”

But if there is a specific Malta connection to the worldwide alert, there is no mention in either the November worldwide alert, or the July warning.

The Maltese government recently reinstated border controls during the Valletta Summit and has now announced it will keep the suspension of the Schengen rules for the time being, as a precautionary measure.

"There is no intelligence suggesting that there are any specific or general threats affecting Malta," the government said in a statement.


 

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.