updated 4/10/2007 7:54:35 PM ET 2007-04-10T23:54:35

More than 700 people were arrested across the European Union for terrorism-related offenses in 2006, and half of those arrests involved threats from Islamic extremists, a European-wide law enforcement organization said Tuesday.

The Europol report was released as EU officials debated proposals for boosting the powers of the bloc’s law enforcement arm to enhance police cooperation in fighting cross-border crime and terrorism.

Almost 500 terrorist-related offenses were carried out in the 27-nation EU in 2006, most of them by separatists or nationalists on the French island of Corsica and in the Spanish Basque region, the report said.

A total of 706 people in 11 EU countries were arrested in connection with terror-related offenses, half of them related to plots by Islamic extremists. No successful Islamic terrorist attacks were carried out in the EU in 2006, the report said.

Large terror presence
The report said a large number of terrorist organizations have an active presence in the EU, some using the bloc as their logistical base or for fundraising only. The report did not name the organizations or provide any other details.

Europol, which provides criminal intelligence to the EU’s 27 member nations, was set up in 1994 primarily to combat serious international crime and terrorism.

But the EU wants to extend the agency’s mandate to criminal issues that are not strictly related to organized crime. It also wants to grant Europol greater access to various data on people under investigation, prompting concerns that privacy protection laws could be violated.

“These proposals give Europol a carte blanche to collect whatever information it wants, regardless of its relevance,” said Syed Kammal, a British Conservative EU lawmaker.

Europol director Max-Peter Ratzel said after a hearing in the European Parliament that the kind of data sought by the organization would not threaten privacy.

“We do not, for example, seek such information as data on consumers from supermarkets,” he said.

He also asked the EU member countries for greater access to personal data in fighting crimes such as child pornography, serial killings or violence at sporting events, which often have a cross-border element.

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