The European Union's judicial cooperation arm, Eurojust, launched a shared counter-terrorism database Thursday that officials said would be "crucial" for judicial action against terrorist suspects and organised crime.
The Counter-Terrorism Register, operational from this month, will give investigators and prosecutors an overview of criminal proceedings made against suspects in other EU countries and in a few, data-compliant partner countries, Eurojust's chief, Ladislav Hamran, told a media conference.
"Now that terrorists operate more and more in cross-border networks, the EU must do the same," he said.
The EU laid the groundwork for judicial data cooperation back in 2005 but the project stalled when some national law enforcement bodies in member states jealously guarded information.
That changed in 2015, when jihadists staged attacks in Paris, killing 130 people in a concert hall, a national stadium and in several cafes, said Frederic Baab, a French former member at Eurojust who helped get the database started.
Suspects linked to those attacks -- claimed by the Islamic State group -- were traced across other EU countries and elsewhere, underlining the "multinational dimension" of such acts, Baab said.
"You need to have a complete overview" to go after such suspects with prosecutable cases, he said. "If you don't have this overview you're a blind man."
The utility of the database was further highlighted with jihadist attacks in Germany in 2016 and Spain in 2017, prompting Belgium, France, Germany and Spain to throw their weight behind its creation last year.
The data stored is regularly updated through a simplified system. However it is limited to the strict minimum needed to cross-reference information in various EU states, Hamran said.
He noted the distinction between Eurojust's mandate for judicial cooperation and the law enforcement role played by another EU body, Europol, more concerned with evidence collection and heading off incipient attacks or crime.
The EU commissioner for security union, Julian King, told the media conference that the Eurojust register could be "an important tool" for prosecuting returning European jihadist fighters captured in Iraq and Syria following the collapse of the Islamic State group's so-called "caliphate".
Eurojust said the database would not only collate information on jihadist suspects but also those affiliated with extreme-right and far-left groups in Europe.