Europe sees surge in terror-related arrests among refugees

Several European countries are seeing a spike in the number of people arrested for planning terror attacks – and there is concern that it's the EU's insufficient background checks on asylum-seekers which are to blame.

Like many other small European towns, Neukirchen in Southern Austria seems quiet and peaceful.

Meanwhile, one of its residents is now under arrest, suspected of being the mastermind behind an Islamic network recruiting extremists and plotting attacks in the heartland of the EU.

An ethnic Chechen, Aslambek was detained at the airport in Vienna as he returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca.

News about the incident went around the world, although strangely none of the local residents seem to know much about it.

Some didn't want to be filmed at all. But was it really because of the lack of information?

The deputy chief of one of Austria's largest newspapers, Christoph Budin, has been personally following this case.

“Just one word – they are frightened,” he says.

Without a TV crew and armed only with a voice recorder, he was more successful in getting residents to share their thoughts.

“In some southern cities we have a really big community of Chechens, so the people are thinking – what comes next?” journalist Christoph Budin says. “I mean – this is my neighbour, he was living beside me and now he's arrested because of a suspected terror plot.”

With his wife and children, Aslambek really appeared to be living an ordinary life.

One of the most striking facts about this case is that the suspect has no hands. He claims he lost them after being caught up in violence in Chechnya.

However, investigators are now looking into a different version – that his hands were blown off while handling explosives.

And this is raising questions among Austrians over how well asylum seekers are checked before getting the green light to enter the country.

Austria has one of the most liberal asylum policies in the EU.

Last year alone the country received over 15,000 refugees from across the world.

With such an inflow of newcomers, it's becoming increasingly hard to find out who is who.

“We want to know from the government in how many cases they actually did these background checks to make sure that these people are not criminals or dangerous,” says Christian Ebner, MP from the Alliance for the Future of Austria. “Second, in how many cases has Austria received information on these refugees from their countries of origin? And third, in how many cases have asylum seekers actually been refused?”

The latest arrest is part of a massive police operation targeting an alleged extremist network.

In late November, 26 people were detained in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, all suspected of recruiting so-called Jihadist candidates and financing terrorist organizations.

“It can be here in Neukirchen and it can be in any other town in Europe,” says Neukirchen Vice Major Martin Fasan.

In an effort to get more information on asylum seekers, the EU is now reaching agreements with their countries of origin, including Russia.

But many experts warn that with hundreds of thousands of refugees already living in the union, the consequences of liberal asylum policies of some of its member states still lie ahead.