Combatting terrorism in cooperation with other players on the international stage is a top priority of the government according to Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou who was speaking in Nicosia at the opening of an international police conference on counter-terrorism on Thursday.
“Dealing with terrorism is one of the highest priorities set by this government. Cyprus is fully aware of the asymmetric terrorist threat and dangers deriving from its geographical position, of the fact that it is close to war zones, of the activities of European and non-European foreign fighters, as well as of the presence of western and other foreign interests in Cyprus” Nicolaou said.
He was speaking on behalf of President Nikos Anastasiades at the opening of the two-day conference entitled Counter-terrorism Policies for Law Enforcement: International and Comparative Perspectives.
Present at the conference were representatives from various law enforcement and intelligence agencies from around the world including the FBI, EUROPOL, CEPOL, and S.SCAT as well as the UN and Microsoft.
Over the next couple of days the attendees, under the Chairpersonship of international renowned criminal justice and terrorism expert Professor Maria (Maki) Haberfeld will exchange ideas on counter-terror matters relating to suicide attacks, community policing, cyber aspects, information sharing, response on the ground and communications for prevention.
Workshops are planned to discuss tactical counter terrorist training for first responders, the impact of police training and education in the fight against terrorism, community policing as a strategy against terrorism and international police cooperation tools for the investigation of terrorism cases.
Nicolaou pointed out that although the island did not face the huge problems other EU member states had to deal with, it could not overlook the fact that from 2012 to 2015 two convictions had been secured concerning terrorist cases and that cooperation with other states was vital.
“National strategy is based on intergovernmental cooperation and its goal is to prevent radicalisation, to protect the crucial premises and targets prone to terrorist attacks, to suppress and prevent at an early stage the terrorist plans and to effectively prosecute offenders as well as to react and recover immediately after a terrorist attack”
Cyprus has developed collaboration on information exchange with neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Egypt and Israel in order to deal with the common threat while it is considered a strategic partner with the US which provides expertise and joint training programmes and military anti-terror exercises.
Cyprus has increased its safety and control measures at entry points to the island be they land, sea or air according to Chief of Police Zacharias Chrysostomou who told the delegates: “Our national strategy for combating terrorism adopted by the council of ministers in October 2014 is based on the four pillars of prevention, protection, repression and reaction. Special forces are tasked with conducting frequent patrols at key and vulnerable locations on the island, targets linked to foreign interests and ‘soft targets’ where people are concentrated,” he said.
Cyprus police have also increased measures at local airports, ports and checkpoints along the buffer zone, which he said were actions deemed necessary especially after the condemnable terrorist attacks in Belgium and France which signified the beginning of a terrorist threat within the EU. Notably in December 2015 airport security was reinforced with additional personnel from both the police and the National Guard, the police chief said.
Chrysostomou gave great importance to the changes introduced in the training and education of the force and other key people who could be of use in the fight against terrorism. “The Cyprus police gives emphasis to the education of its members, private employees and civil servants on terrorism issues. Special attention is paid to the further development of cooperation with other countries through bilateral and multilateral agreements on European law pertinent to the exchange of information and organization of joint training exercises on terrorism,” he said.