Portugal raises terror-alert level after Paris attacks

As fear has erupted in Europe after Friday night’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the head of Portugal’s counter-terrorism observatory has said the country cannot rule out the threat of a terror attack by the Islamic State (ISIS). With Europe’s open borders and the influx of refugees being questioned, Portugal’s foreign affairs minister Rui Machete says the situation is “delicate and cannot be taken lightly”. For now, police reinforcements are in place at the country’s airports and embassies and the EU is in a “race against time” to save the Schengen Area.

“There is no a reason for us (Portugal) to fear an attack, but it is evidently a delicate situation that cannot be taken lightly,” Machete said after a preliminary meeting in Brussels on Monday. He will be travelling to Brussels again on Friday (November 20) to discuss with other European leaders the consequences of the attacks and new counter-terrorism strategies.

“Portugal, on a geographical and sociological level, has been spared (of terror attacks) but there are no guarantees that it will continue this way,” said the minister.

In the meantime, police numbers have been reinforced at Portugal’s airports as well as the UK, French, American and German embassies.

Rui Pereira, the head of Portugal’s security and counter-terrorism observatory (OSCOT), told Lusa news agency that Portugal “cannot rule out the threat of a terrorist attack as it belongs to the EU and due to its alliances”.

However, “western countries cannot be paralysed by fear”, he continued.

What is certain is that the horrific attacks in France, which have claimed the lives of at least 132 people, two of them Portuguese, have strengthened the debate about the future of the Schengen Area.

As BBC’s chief correspondent Gavin Hewitt wrote, “Europe’s open borders were already under strain from the refugee crisis. After the attacks in Paris there are increasing doubts about whether they can survive without being reinforced.”

The European Union itself has admitted it is in a “race against time” to save the Schengen Area.

Another hot topic – now more controversial than ever – is the thousands of Syrian refugees who are on their way to Europe. Conservatives such as France’s Marine Le Pen have called for the country to stop taking in “these people”, in response to allegations that one of the terrorists behind the Paris attacks infiltrated Europe as a refugee who arrived in Greece on October 3.

But plans to welcome refugees in Portugal remain unaltered. “We had already adopted security procedures which are still in place, and there isn’t until now any reason to change them,” said António Pereira, the national director of the country’s border authority (SEF).

High Commissioner for Migration Pedro Calado has also criticised those who are trying to make refugees the “scapegoats” of the attack.

“You can’t mistake victims for attackers. The recent brutal attacks only reinforce the reasons why refugees are running away from the self-proclaimed Islamic State,” he told Diário Económico newspaper.

For now, Portugal is soon to receive its first 30 refugees, who are expected to arrive next month from Italy.

Two Portuguese among Paris victims

With the death toll of Paris’ attacks at 132, Portuguese authorities have confirmed the death of two Portuguese people – Manuel Dias, 63, and Précilia Correia, 35, who were killed in shootings outside the Stade de France stadium and inside the Bataclan concert hall, respectively.

Dias, a taxi driver born in Mértola but living in Paris for most of his life, was killed while driving three people to the stadium during the match between France and Germany.

Correia, daughter of a Portuguese man and an employee of a FNAC store in Paris, was among the 89 people killed in the Bataclan shooting during a concert by American band Eagles of Death Metal.

One of the shooters at the Bataclan concert hall was Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, the son of an Algerian man and a Portuguese woman born in Braga but who does not have a Portuguese nationality, according to Expresso newspaper.

He was identified in a Facebook post by the mayor of Chartres, a town about 60 miles southwest of Paris.

According to the New York Times, he was identified by fingertips on a finger found at the scene of the shooting.

Ismaël Omar Mostefaï grew up in Chartres and was described by a neighbour as part of a “normal family, like any other”. However, the neighbour said he started to develop extremist views around 2010 and is believed to have spent some months in Syria between 2013 and 2014. Says the newspaper, he was identified by authorities in a group of people with “radical Islamic ideologies”.

“This is a moment of mourning for all Europeans” – PM Passos Coelho

As a way of paying his respects to the victims of the Paris attacks, Portugal’s PM Passos Coelho visited the French Embassy in Portugal on Monday for a minute of silence.

“This is a moment of mourning for all Europeans. It is fundamental for us to show our solidarity, convictions and the importance we give to our common values in these times of pain,” the prime minister told journalists, calling for European countries to find ways of fighting terrorism more effectively.

As the Luxembourg government has announced, cited by the Wall Street Journal, European ministers will gather in Brussels on Friday to discuss ways of bolstering the region’s response to terrorism.

The meeting, in which Rui Machete will be representing Portugal, will focus on a “Europe-wide database of airline passengers, firearms security and the reinforcement of controls at external borders”, the Luxembourg government said.

By MICHAEL BRUXO michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com