A wake-up call for Europe
Europe’s slack security allowed the Paris train shooting to happen but the news media will indulge themselves with the Moroccan connection.
Authorities have arrested a man who was overpowered by passengers on a packed Amsterdam-Paris train. Reports say the suspect had visited Syria and was known to intelligence services. He could therefore be tagged a “terrorist”.
But the heroic event, which led three Americans to wrestle Moroccan national Ayoub el-Khazzani, 25, to the floor when he fired an assault rifle, leads to two thoughts: First, that the media will expand on the cliché that Morocco and the rest of North Africa are breeding pools for terrorists and, second, that heroism itself is not dead.
But what has Europe learnt?
The shooting, which underlined difficulties facing intelligence services trying to track an unprecedented number of potential terrorists, is expected to lead to tighter security for international train services in Europe, as many will ask how an individual in Europe boards a train with an assault rifle.
Other questions EU security outlets might ponder include the availability of weapons in the first place. In the Paris shootings earlier in 2015, guns that killed and maimed many in two incidents were traced to a Belgian arms dealer. But intelligence agencies know that the Belgian route is not typical.
The heart to both the gun problem and “terrorists” from North Africa can be found with Europe’s slack security. It’s easy to think of Morocco as a country that harbours terrorism. However, this country is doing its best to fight jihadists.
It has been a victim itself of hard-core Islamic groups. Few there can forget the Casablanca bombings of May 2003, which killed 45.
Morocco has worked hand-in-hand with Europe’s intelligence services since then and, because of this, a number of arrests in the 2004 Madrid bombing were made.
The core problem, however, is not Morocco, a liberal Islamic country which, because of its identity, makes it the nemesis of Islamist terrorists.
The heart of the matter lies in Europe’s security services and how EU governments have failed to efficiently deal with their home-grown jihadist problem. How could they not stop someone who is considered a high security risk after travelling to Syria getting weapons and planning a terrorist operation?
It’s also about how the European Union is reluctant to lean on Spain’s government for allowing arms, as well as fugitives to enter the union via high-speed boats at night across the straits of Gibraltar.
On a daily basis, illegal immigrants, arms and drugs are habitually whisked across the short stretch of sea from Morocco to Spain, where they are never detected by Spanish police — because those who arranged the shipments also handled the local police.
Corruption in Spain is what is fuelling both trades — one in illegal arms that originate in Algeria and the other in illegal immigrants.
The arrest of Khazzani might also make France and Spain take a look at their policies towards returning jihadists.
In many cases, terrorists who hail from North Africa often enter Europe via this soft underbelly that the European Union refuses to do anything about, because it might compromise its leverage on Spain in other areas.
In this particular case, slack border control combined with sloppy intelligence sharing led to this young man not only purchasing an assault rifle and a pistol but almost carrying out a terror attack.
About 850 French and 300 Belgians have left to fight in Syria and Iraq and hundreds have returned to Europe, say intelligence officials, overwhelming their ability to monitor them all.
Europe’s media need to draw breath and abstain from pumping out the old clichés about Morocco and talk instead about EU borders.
The attempted attack on the train should be a wake-up call for EU leaders on many levels. They might note that it was American heroism though — and not European — that prevented a blood bath on a French train.