Belfast Telegraph

Europe to fight IS terror

EU pledges to halt Islamic militants butchering Christians

By Colin Francis

The European Union has sought to forge a unified response to the rapid advance of Islamic militants in Iraq and the resulting refugee crisis.

The Islamic State (IS) militants are reportedly butchering Christians and other religious minorities as they take territory in northern Iraq.

Warnings that the threat is moving closer to Europe are also circulating.

Several EU nations have pledged more humanitarian aid and opened the way to directly arming Kurdish fighters battling Sunni insurgents.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been at the forefront of efforts to halt the IS advance.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the UK would "consider favourably" any request for the supply of arms to help Kurdish forces combat the IS militants.

The French have already announced their intention to provide weapons and the British Government has said it would provide arms and equipment should the Kurdish leadership make a request.

The emergency meeting of the bloc's 28 foreign ministers in Brussels marked a shift towards greater involvement in Iraq, following weeks during which Europeans mainly considered the situation an American problem because of the 2003 US-led Iraq invasion.

EU ministers pledged to step up their efforts to help those displaced by the advances of the IS, with several nations announcing they will fly dozens of tons of aid to northern Iraq over the coming days.

"First of all we need to make sure that we alleviate humanitarian suffering," Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans said.

"Secondly, I believe we need to make sure that IS is not in a position to overrun the Kurds or to take a stronger hold on Iraq."

France has pledged to ship weapons to the Kurds, Britain is delivering ammunition and military supplies obtained from eastern European nations and is considering sending more weaponry. Germany, the Netherlands and others said they would also consider requests to arm the Kurds.

"These are crises... that are of concern to our European neighbourhood, to our security and stability," Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini said.

Officials say about 1,700 radical Muslims from France, Britain and Germany alone are believed to have joined the fighting. A radical French Islamist who had fought in Syria is suspected of killing four people at Brussels' Jewish Museum in May.

The IS group swiftly advanced across northern and western Iraq in June, routing the Iraqi military and taking the country's second-largest city, Mosul. Thousands of people have been killed and 1.5 million have been displaced.

The plight this month of thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority, who fled from advancing IS militants and were trapped on a mountain range, was key to pushing Europe toward taking action.

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