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Losses in Syria may force some IS leaders to move to Libya: EU official
By AFP -
An image made available by the jihadist Twitter account Al-Baraka news on June 11, 2014, allegedly shows a militant of the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant waving the Islamic Jihad flag at the Syrian-Iraqi border. Photo: AFP 
Russian warplanes have been conducting air strikes against Islamic State jihadists and other groups in Syria since September 30, 2015. Photo: AFP/Paul Gypteau
France has been involved in the US-led coalition air strikes in Iraq since September 2014. Photo: AFP 
Smoke rises from buildings in the area of Tal Sharba following government air strikes on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 27, 2015, as government forces seized the area from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. Photo: AFP/George Ourfalian 
Mujahideen Horan brigade fighters, part of the Free Syrian Army, prepare a weapon before firing towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad located in Deraa, Syria, in what they said was a battle to pressure breaking the siege off Madaya, January 11, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir   
A Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel fighter fires his weapon towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad at the Tal-Kurdi frontline in the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus, May 10, 2015. Photo: REUTERS/Amer Almohibany  
President of the Syrian National Coalition Khaled Khoja delivers remarks regarding Russian air strikes on Syria at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York September 30, 2015. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Free Syrian Army fighters prepare shells before firing them towards Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria, January 18, 2016. The Sultan Murad brigade, part of the Free Syrian Army, with the help of air strikes carried out by the U.S.-led coalition, took control of the Hur-klas, Ghazal and Yan-yaban villages on the border with Turkey, from Islamic State fighters, in the northern Aleppo countryside, activists said. Photo: REUTERS/Abdelrahmin Ismail 
Damage is seen inside a school, due to what activists said was an air strike carried out yesterday by the Russian air force in Injara town, Aleppo countryside, Syria January 12, 2016. Bombs dropped by suspected Russian warplanes killed at least 12 Syrian schoolchildren on Monday when they hit a classroom in a rebel-held town in Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Photo: REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Mujahideen Horan brigade fighters, part of the Free Syrian Army, stand near their tank before firing towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad located in Deraa, Syria, in what they said was a battle to pressure breaking the siege off Madaya, January 11, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir 
A man inspects the damage at a burnt bakery after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in al-Tah village in the southern countryside of Idlib, Syria January 3, 2016. Picture taken January 3, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
A Syrian man evacuates a child from the rubble of a destroyed building following air strikes on the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma (AFP Photo/Sameer al-Doumy 
Destruction in Idlib on December 21, 2015 following reported Russian air strikes. Photo: AFP/Omar Haj Kadaour 
A general view shows the damage at a camp for internally displaced people after it was hit by what activists said were air strikes carried out last week by the Russian air force, in the town of Kafr Nabuda in Hama province in western Syria January 4, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah 
Civil Defense members try to put out a fire at a bakery after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in al-Tah village in the southern countryside of Idlib, Syria January 3, 2016. Picture taken January 3, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Islamic State military losses in Syria and Iraq may prompt some of its leaders to relocate to Libya where they will face less pressure, the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator said Thursday.
In an interview with AFP, Gilles de Kerchove also warned that the raids by the US-led coalition and Russian warplanes as well as operations by Iraqi and Syrian ground troops could lead IS to stage more Paris-style attacks in Europe.
De Kerchove cited the jihadist group's recent ouster from the Iraqi city of Ramadi and heavy air strikes in Syria where he said the organisation is now on the defensive.
There could be "some movement of senior leadership from the caliphate to Libya," he said, referring to the so-called caliphate declared by IS in 2014 and based in the Syrian city of Raqa.
De Kerchove said Western powers should cooperate on counter-terrorism with the new Libyan government of national unity that was formed this week under a UN-brokered deal aimed at ending years of bloodshed.
It would be easy at present for the IS group to operate in strife-torn Libya, where there are an estimated 3,000 IS fighters, "because there are no air strikes for the time being in Libya and not a fully functioning government," he said.
'Perfect chaos' 
 Gilles de Kerchove, Counter-terrorism coordinator at the Council of the European Union, is pictured during an interview on December 11, 2015 in Rome. Photo: AFP/Alberto Pizzoli
"We know that the senior leadership in Syria is really monitoring what is happening in Libya. So if they feel the pressure is too high, there might be a temptation to move to another hotspot," de Kerchove said.
"There, for the time, being it's the perfect chaos they like."
He added that a number of setbacks suffered by IS in Iraq and Syria in recent months had already prompted the group to inspire or launch attacks in Beirut, Ankara, Istanbul, Tunis, Egypt's Sinai desert, and Paris, where 130 people were killed on November 13.
"The more there is pressure on Daesh, the more the organisation will first decide to mount attacks in the West, in particular Europe, to show successes," de Kerchove said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
"More boots on the ground will be needed to get rid of them in Raqa and Mosul (in Iraq) but I think the (US-led) coalition has had successes."
He also said it was his understanding that Russian warplanes are increasingly attacking IS targets after initial charges from Washington that they were mostly hitting Western-backed groups opposed to Moscow's ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The increased air strikes -- which are also destroying trucks carrying oil that finances IS activities -- could force more IS foreign fighters to return to their homes in Europe, he said.
Separately, Hans Bonte, the mayor of Vilvoorde, told AFP that three people from his Belgian city just north of Brussels have died in Syria or Iraq in the last several weeks, bringing the total deaths of foreign fighters from Vilvoorde to at least eight since mid-2014.
"It's clear the number of people being killed are (being killed) at a higher frequency than it used to be," Bonte told AFP.
De Kerchove said he would not be surprised if European fighters were dying at an increasing rate because of the intensifying air strikes, but he had no independent confirmation.