The Moroccan gunman, Ayoub Qahzzani, 26, who injured three passengers on the Amsterdam-Paris fast train Friday, Aug. 21, before he was subdued, was one more Muslim extremist known to French intelligence who was nonetheless able to commit an act of terror. He was heavily armed, yet two unarmed American servicemen and other passengers tackled him and so prevented a massacre on the packed Thalys train as it sped through Belgium.
Commended for bravery were Anthony Sadler, from Pittsburg, California, Alek Skarlatos from Roseburg, Oregon, and Chris Norman, a Briton living in France.
The terrorist was arrested when the train stopped at Arras in northern France.
debkafile’s counterterrorism sources: El-Qahzzani resided in Spain for some years before traveling to Syria in 2014 and then moving to France. It turns out that he was under the radar both of Spanish and French counterterrorism authorities. This was yet another case of a potential terrorist threat, suspected of contact with the Islamic State in Syria, who was nevertheless at large.
This selfsame scenario has been repeated time and again. Last month, another suspect under French surveillance beheaded the owner of a US-owned gas factory near Lyon and seriously injured two people. An intelligence file was opened on his case in 2006 and not renewed in 2008.
Three years ago, Mohamed Merah murdered a teacher and three pupils at a Jewish school in Toulouse after killing two French servicemen. Not only was he known to French security services, but they had sent him on trips to the Middle East and Israel.
The terrorist who attacked the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014 and murdered a Jewish couple and a museum guard was a familiar face to the French secret service. Its agents were indeed waiting for when he stepped off the bus from Belgium.
In the most dramatic attack, the Islamist terrorists who raided the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine for a massacre – and the killer who murdered four Jews at a Paris supermarket three days later – were likewise on the books of French security services.
Since the Charlie Hebdo attack, France has been on high security alert for terror.
The high-speed train is popular for travel between France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. It is used extensively by businesspeople, diplomats, European Union officials and tourists. Yet, unlike the Eurostar train between Paris and London, luggage does not pass through X-ray machines or other forms of screening.
President Francois Hollande is rightly outraged and stricken by these tragedies, but it is also his responsibility to prevent their systematic recurrence on his watch. Every one of those episodes has been characterized by the perpetrators being “known to French intelligence.”
It is therefore obvious that French anti-terror agencies are badly in need of an overhaul and a fresh approach to the recurrent terrorist attacks, that enables them to differentiate between inside informers and dangerous terrorists, otherwise the next outrage will not be long in coming.