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Major European anti-terrorism exercise

17 April 2013

Belgian Federal Police storming a train at the Midi station in Brussels, as part of the ATLAS anti-terrorism exercise on 17 April. Photo: Joakim Larsson

On April 17 and 18, the EU Member States anti-terrorist police forces united as part of the EU-sponsored ATLAS Network, carrying out the most complex preparation and crises response simulation so far at European level. The simulation involved simultaneous terrorist attacks in 9 different EU Member States - Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Romania.

"The fight against terrorism is one of the key challenges to our internal security. Terrorism does not recognise borders and maintaining public security is a complex challenge which requires the coordination of our efforts," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström commented, adding:

"I believe that the cooperation between police authorities in Europe is more necessary now than ever and I welcome the exercise of the ATLAS network."

Commissioner Malmström visited the simulated terror attack and response by the Belgian Federal Police at the Midi train station in Brussels, as part of the exercise on 17 April.

The ATLAS network, created in 2001, is an association consisting of special police units of the 27 EU Member States working on countering terrorism and criminal acts. It contributes to increasing the proficiency and expertise of these units, by establishing common platforms for training and tactics, sharing equipment, and by establishing close cooperation in trans-border areas of Member States. The 2013 practical exercise, named "Common Challenge", simulated terrorist attacks in nine countries in different areas of public life. Simulated targets included power plants, schools, shops, buses and trains.

Past terrorist attacks, carried out both by individuals and groups, both abroad and in Europe have shown great sophistication and coordination by terrorist groups. The 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Al Qaeda 2012 attacks on the Algerian gas production plant, as well as the recent Boston marathon bombings highlight the need to increase protection against attacks on both critical infrastructures and other public areas. The ATLAS Network exchanges best practices and procedures and undertakes joint training exercises. In order to prepare against terrorist attacks, real life simulations of terrorist acts are carried out by Atlas members of the anti-terrorist units from different Member States.

The ATLAS Network is financed and supported by the European Commission. The Commission's Directorate-General for Home Affairs was responsible for the coordination of the simulation exercise, which was carried out jointly with the ATLAS Presidency held by the German Police Special units (GSG9).

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Read about the anti-terrorism work of the European Commission here.