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Tragedy Averted
Thwarted Attack Shows Europe Must Rethink Intel Sharing

One of the staunchest defenders of free travel across Europe’s borders, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, said that Friday’s planned terror attack on a train traveling between Paris and Amsterdam (which was foiled by three quick-thinking Americans and one Briton) should prompt a rethink of one of the core pillars of the European project. The Telegraph:

“The Schengen Agreement is important for our economy and our citizens, but we are now faced with new threats in Europe and so we’ll maybe have to move towards new rules in identity and baggage checks,” Mr Michel said.

“It is certainly a boon to economic development and freedom of movement for those who have good intentions, but this freedom is also used in order to harm. The goal is not to suppress freedoms, but to deal with a threat.” […]

A major revision of Europe’s travel rules may require treaty change, and could make Mr Cameron’s demand to change the rules around welfare for migrants appear mild by comparison.

The European Commission, for its part, has been trying to shut such talk down since the incident on Friday, saying that the Schengen provisions guaranteeing freedom of movement were irreversible and “non-negotiable.” It added that increased security measures need not be in conflict with Schengen if they do not amount to the equivalent of border checks.

What the attacks really ought to prompt, in any case, is a rethink of how Europe’s various intelligence agencies share information and coordinate with each other. The man responsible for the failed attack, Ayoub El-Khazzani, had a security alert on his file in France. He was tracked departing from Berlin for Istanbul in May, in what appears to have been an attempt to reach northern Syria. However, officials have no record of his returning to Europe. A Schengen-wide security database exists, but is used inconsistently and only for high-risk routes (for people likely to be arriving from Syria, for example). Furthermore, many European intelligence agencies are reportedly reluctant to put some of their dossiers in the database.

All sorts of talk about reforming intelligence sharing emerged after the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, but the discussion hasn’t gained much momentum. Maybe this averted tragedy—coupled with the specter of ISIS operatives making their way into Europe amidst the huge groups of migrants arriving in the EU—will help focus minds in Brussels.

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  • adk

    First of all, the three Americans are not just “quick-thinking”, they are real heroes. Two, re this: “What the attacks really ought to prompt, in any case, is a rethink of how Europe’s various intelligence agencies share information and coordinate with each other.” Perhaps in this case, there was a failure of information sharing, but I suspect two other major factors were at play for which there’s no easy remedy: a) there are just too many of those Muslim “suspects” wandering free in Europe (thus,intelligence agencies are just overwhelmed), and b) such attacks are very easy and cheap to mount. Next time, a “lone wolf” will walk into a cinema or a shopping mall or a street fair…good luck with stopping that.

    • rheddles

      such attacks are very easy and cheap to mount.

      Really? I don’t know the exact details, but this guy’s armament consisted of an automatic rifle, an automatic pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammo. I would think that would be pretty difficult for a lone wolf to come by in gun paranoid EUrope.

      And the next time you stop them the same way they did this time. Just don’t let them live.

      • iconoclast

        Obviously Islamists find it easy to smuggle small arms into the EU. After all, gun paranoia and restrictions only limit the law-abiding. Criminals, terrorists, and insurgents have always been able to find weapons.

      • adk

        As iconoclast already answered — pretty much every recent jihadi terrorist act in EU involved small automatic arms, and with thousands more coming to (or invading if you will) Europe from the ME and Africa, this problem is going to get even worse.

        Also, the WSJ today reported that the train terrorist was on the radar screen of French security services, but at the lowest level of threat, among some other 8,000 suspects. Try tracking them all in borderless Europe…

        • rheddles

          Don’t have the authorities track them. Have the people kill them when they attack. Make sure none live.

          My point was that this was no lone wolf.

          • adk

            So no intelligence, no tracking, just unarmed citizen heroes rising to the occasion? This is sheer nonsense.

          • rheddles

            Intelligence doesn’t always result in action. We have to be prepared at the point of attack.

  • Pete

    The threat to Europe comes from the muslims in their midst. FACT!

  • jeburke

    What’s the big deal about border checks? They take a few seconds. In the case of trains, an official can walk the train during the transit time between stops in country A and country B, as still happens on some European borders. People crossing the US-Canadian border now must show passports, which interferes only trivially with one of the world’s most heavily trafficked borders.

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