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Europol sees latent threat over Mohammad cartoons

Written by: Staff
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THE HAGUE, Mar 2 (Reuters) The public controversy over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad may be dying down but the head of the European policy agency Europol warned today of a latent threat of attacks on all EU countries.

The cartoons, first published last year in a Danish newspaper and since reprinted in European and other countries, sparked worldwide protests by Muslims who believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.

Dozens have died in violent protests in Africa and Asia.

''There is a latent danger and a latent threat ... It can be directed towards Denmark or the European Union,'' Europol chief Max-Peter Ratzel told Reuters in an interview.

He said any EU country could be targeted, including those holding the bloc's rotating presidency -- Austria in the first half of this year and Finland in the next.

''You have a big variety of possible reactions from the terrorist side, from the radical side, it is very, very difficult to forecast which will be the next target,'' he said.

Ratzel urged the EU to learn lessons from the fact that everybody was surprised by how fast the uproar developed.

''We've had some indication ... but rather late,'' said Ratzel of signs the affair was exploited by radical groups.

In Denmark, a group of Muslims, who opposed the violent protests, said it wanted to spread its message of democracy to fight fanaticism across the world.

Syrian-born Naser Khader, a member of the Danish parliament and founder of the Democratic Muslims network, told a news conference that the network had been approached by like-minded Muslims in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, Spain, Norway, Morocco, Tunisia and Syria.

Ratzel said police officials from across the bloc had exchanged information on the cartoons uproar at Europol.

The agency was created in 1999 with a mandate to enhance cooperation between national police forces in such fields as drug trafficking and money laundering.

Its 590 staff, based in The Hague, provide operational support and analysis to police in the 25 EU member states, although Europol itself is not empowered to make arrests.

''We see still an ongoing threat by Islamic terrorism'' but ''it cannot be identified at the moment more specifically,'' Ratzel said.

''We cannot say a special country or a special kind of building has a special threat situation. That makes it even more difficult to deal with,'' he added.

Europol's counter-terrorism task-force supported a little more than 40 operations in 2005, and is currently supporting around 20, Ratzel said.

REUTERS OM PM2039

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