Friday, May 22, 2015

22-May-15: Tough, crucial questions at Europe's borders

Nice Moroccan boy wanting to spend more time with immigrant mother
in Italy? Or murder-minded gunman with no problem shooting
dozens of tourists in the back? [Image Source]
Go back and take a look at our comments on the most recent random murder attack on people in Tunisia ["19-Mar-15: In Tunisia, terrorists target tourists... again"] and you can see that there were all manner of speculations about what triggered the terror attack on a busload of foreign tourists (from Italy, Japan, France, Spain, Colombia, Australia, Britain, Belgium, Poland and Russia) exiting a bus to visit a museum in Tunis. Two dozen victims lay dead, most of them shot in the back by two masked gunmen, before the shooters were done.

A key suspect has been arrested. Here's what's known today:
  • He was arrested in Gaggiano, Italy, a few kilometers south of Milan. His mother and two siblings have lived there legally for "many years". It's a known tourist town.
  • His name is Abdel Majid Touil. He's a Moroccan national, age 22. How much he actually appreciates tourism and tourists is now an open question.
  • Italian police are saying he arrived in Italy on a so-called "migrant boat" loaded with 90 others, that set sale for Italy from somewhere in North Africa in February. Photographs of the freshly arrived migrants are above and below.
  • How did a "migrant", desperate enough to sail across the Mediterranean to rejoin his mother and siblings (who have been residing in Italy for years at that point), manage to then leave Italy within a few weeks, go back to north Africa, take part in a shooting attack on unarmed people, killing nearly two dozen of them, then slip (march?, parachute?) back into Italy in time to be arrested there for terrorism and murder? The Wall Street Journal asked officials at Italy's Interior Ministry: they say they don't know. [Source: "Tunis Attack Suspect Arrested with Migrants", Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2015]
  • AFP says Touil is wanted "for premeditated murder, kidnapping and terrorism" on an international warrant. The arrest was executed by Italy’s counter-terrorism DIGOS police.
Other people are probably asking larger questions, like: if there are boatloads of "migrants" arriving on Europe's shores and it turns out one or more of them has terror, murder and mayhem on his mind, what ought to be done? Who checks them? How cautious ought European society to be?

An Italian newspaper report from yesterday drills down on the outlook and attitudes of people living in Gaggiano ["a characterless series of streets, buildings, and link roads"], and their views of what has been going on in the "four-storey 1960s building of 16 apartments at 14 Via Pitagora... inhabited by pensioners and blue-collar workers" where the suspect lived. For neighbours:
judgment has already been passed. For them, the Moroccan is guilty, no doubt about it. What they remember about the Touil family is “€32,000 of unpaid condominium charges,” and rubbish, including nappies and sanitary towels, “thrown out of the window”. They had to call in a special cleaning firm, “not once, but twice”, to “deal with the pigsty on the top floor” inhabited by the family. Six people are crammed into a 60-m² apartment, with a living room, kitchenette, bedroom and bathroom: the mother, Fatima, the eldest son with his partner and daughter, one of Fatima’s two daughters, and lastly, Abdel Majid... In Via Pitagora, neighbours say that the Touil family are squatters, who broke down the door to take possession of their house...  [Corriere della Serra, May 21, 2015]
As for the suspect himself
Instead of going to the mosque, he spent his time in the local bars, such as Novella 73, frequented by pensioners, with whom he used to spend the evenings chatting. When he went further afield, it was only to attend Italian lessons in Trezzano sul Naviglio, which is where he was the week of the attack in Tunis; according to the school’s teachers and principal, Abdel Majid was in class. However, the youth had not been seen for the last two weeks. According to his mother, there was nothing strange in this, since “he had been ill.” Apart from Novella 73 and the school, Abdel Majid Touilin seems to have led a quiet life. His brother has a criminal record for drug pushing, but since becoming a father may have changed his ways. [Same Italian source]
And the plot?
Early in February, his father and sister, who lived with him in Morocco, near Casablanca, are reported to have taken him to the airport. On this first leg of his journey, Abdel Majid allegedly flew to Tunisia with a low-cost airline. In Tunis, he is thought to have stayed for three days in a hotel, and from there to have moved on to Libya, where he boarded a boat of migrants heading for Sicily, to be subsequently rescued on 15th or 16th February. He may be the victim of a terrible mistake by the Tunisian authorities, or perhaps has been confused with somebody else with the same name. Alternatively, Abdel Majid Touil may be a well-trained terrorist, who first of all deceived his own mother, or even “enlisted” her, getting her to cover for him and provide an alibi. It was in fact his mother who failed to report the disappearance of her son’s passport to the police until two months after the event. The idea of enrolling in an Italian course may also have been a bluff, aimed at showing his willingness to integrate. [Same Italian source]
There's more. According to the occasionally-reputable Daily Mail UK
Touil arrived in Porto Empedocle in Sicily on February 17 using the alias Abdullah after being rescued by Italian authorities on a migrant boat in the Mediterranean. But he received an expulsion order demanding he leave Italy within 15 days.
They publish these photos today leaving readers to wonder whether the face and attitude belong to a skillful traveling-shooting-murdering terrorist thug they call "ISIS fanatic" or just a well-meaning son wanting more time with his mother:
The suspect [Image Source]
 Little doubt they're pleased - but about what, exactly? [Image Source]
Not surprisingly, there are those focusing on the smirks and the triumphant V-for-Victory raised hands and trying to interpret the mindsets behind them. 

But there are larger and serious issues at work here. Should European authorities be driven by the notion that some unknown proportion of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs making their way into Europe by sea on open boats and avoiding conventional migration channels (like the 900 or so received on Wednesday) have terrorism on their minds?

Or should they be considered hard-luck cases looking for a better life until proven otherwise? 

Whatever they conclude, there's no room for doubting any more that Europe is in the cross-hairs of some highly ideological killers and planners. Getting this wrong is going to come at a very high price. The issues are anything but theoretical, even if arriving at the answers calls for some unpleasant checking, thinking and acting. Either way, there are concrete consequences.

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