Saturday, August 22, 2015

22-Aug-15: Carnage on a high-speed European train and the quick-thinking that prevented it

The attempt at a massacre on board a train on Friday in Belgium
was prevented by three ordinary American guys [Image Source]
The latest high-profile attack on ordinary people traveling in Europe occurred on Friday on board a crowded Thalys train speeding from Amsterdam to Paris.
Travelling at speeds of 300 km/hr. the Thalys high-speed train connects 17 cities across Western Europe, including Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris. Thalys trains are well known for their efficient travel times and their excellent service. If you wish to travel in luxury and save as much time as you can for sightseeing, then the Thalys is your best choice. [From the Eurail website]
That excellent service actually plays a role in what happened.

An attempt at carrying out a rifle-powered massacre on-board was made on Friday by a male described as "a 26-year-old Moroccan" who boarded the high-speed train at the Brussels South station. Whatever security checks are carried out there are evidently inadequate to the task of stopping a determined terrorist equipped, as this "hero" was, with "a Kalashnikov, a knife, an automatic pistol and cartridges." In the end, he was neutralized not by paid and equipped security personnel but by fare-paying travelers who sized up the situation fast enough to do something effective. They are, hardly surprisingly, not Europeans.

Brussels South, the station where the gunman boarded,
is the largest in Belgium's capital city [Image South]
Before being overpowered by the travelers, the gunman managed to shoot one passenger in the head and stab another. Belgium's prime minister Charles Michel in a statement released to the news media on Friday evening called it a "terrorist attack". With that achieved, he consulted with Belgium's Interior Minister and the Chief Commissioner of its Federal Police Service on Friday evening and - suspend the skepticism - something actually came out of that:
It was decided that security will be step up (sic). [Deractie (Belgium), August 22, 2015]
That's an actual Belgian quote. Here's another:
Sources within the security services say that that it is too early to confirm whether the gunman is also known to the Belgian security services. [Deractie]
According to the BBCFrance's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve speaking in a press conference today (Saturday), said the suspect's identity had yet to be confirmed
but it was believed that he had radical Islamist beliefs... [and] had lived in Spain until 2014, and in Belgium this year. Spanish intelligence passed on information about the suspect to France in February 2014, he said... [BBC]
Just to clarify, and quoting that senior French politician: no one is too sure who the Islamist with infidel blood on his mind actually is yet. But we do know enough to say he's a Moroccan who has been under the noses of the Spanish and French anti-terror authorities for some time. Despite this, the clever bugger got onto a train in Belgium where they don't seem to have opened a file on him till now, equipped with a deadly arsenal serious enough to carry out what every commentator is calling carnage.

The Spanish (according to Telegraph UK) know enough to say his name is Ayoub El Qahzzani and that he traveled to Syria in 2014 from his base in Spain, returning to France soon after that,)

There were 554 passengers on board.

Thalys train [Image Source]
You're wondering about that excellent Thalys service? The French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade (from "I Am a Soldier", "Betty Blue" and "Nikita", and who was slightly injured when he broke the glass window of the alarm to call security on the train) says, according to the BBC which is translating Paris Match, that the
train staff entered a private cabin and locked it when they heard gunshots, leaving the passengers alone. "I thought it was the end, that we were going to die, that he was going to kill us all," he said. "I really could see us all dying because we were all prisoners in that train, it would have been impossible to escape from that nightmare." [BBC]
The real heroes of this appalling tale are a handful of fast-moving Americans, on-board the train as tourists: a US Air Force service man, an inactive member of the US National Guard, and an ordinary American civilian. They came away with box-cutter wounds (including a mutilated hand), and other non-life-threatening injuries, along with the gratitude of countless slower-moving Europeans.

Here's a prediction. The attacker is going to be called a lone wolf, and the involvement of helpers and associates and spiritual advisers and weapons providers and funders and the people making "calls" to devout followers of Islam to show their faith by killing other people will be ignored, or postponed, or downplayed for as long the news cycle permits.

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