A massacre on a train from Amsterdam to Paris was prevented by the timely intervention of passengers: three Americans, an unidentified French passenger and a Briton.
The terrorist, 25-year old Moroccan National Ayob el-Khazzani, was jumped by a Frenchman as he left a train bathroom, shirtless and armed with an AK-47, a luger pistol and a box cutter.
Spencer Stone, currently in the U.S. airforce, and Alex Skarlatoss, an Oregon National Guardman, charged el-Khazzani on sight, followed immediately by their friend Anthony Sadler.
After a brief struggle, the terrorist was taken to the ground and tied up with the help of the unnamed French man and Briton Chris Norman.
Ayob el-Khazzani is now being questioned by French counter-terrorism police.
Here are Clarion’s three key takeaways from the incident.
It could have been a bloodbath
Alex Skarlatos, a member of the Oregan National Guard who helped overpower and subdue the terrorist took the weapons and patrolled the train looking for any accomplices. While doing so he discovered the weapon malfunctions that saved lives.
“He had pulled the trigger on the AK” said Skarlatos. “The primer was just faulty, so the gun didn’t go off, luckily. And he didn’t know how to fix it, which is also very lucky.”
The pistol also malfunctioned. Skarlatos said, “There was no magazine in it, so he either dropped it accidentally or didn’t load it properly, so he was only able to get what appeared to be one shot off.”
He added ,“I mean, if that guy’s weapon had been functioning properly, “I don’t even want to think about how it would have went.”
Security services cannot track and arrest every potential terrorist.
The French government had been tracking. El-Khazzani, as had authorities in Belgium and Spain due to his ties to radical Islamist movements. He had also travelled to Syria. But he also moved around between countries and authorities did not have specific grounds to arrest him.
Earlier this month British authorities reported that they had intercepted a plot to kill the Queen on Victory in Japan Day. After the Chattanooga shooting in July, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul told reporters U.S. Security Forces foiled "over 60" Islamic State plots over the past year, despite the fact they had been unable to prevent the Chattanooga Shooting.
“When there's nothing to justify an arrest, there comes a time when you move on to other individuals," said Sébastien Pietrasanta, who was involved in drafting France’s latest anti-terror legislation. "Given the number of individual linked to radical Islamism it becomes complicated.”
States and borders are less relevant than ever
The attack took place on a train from Belgium to France. The attacker was a Moroccan national who had lived in Spain and Belgium and had possibly travelled to Syria via Turkey. Those who subdued and tied up the terrorist were Americans, aided by a Frenchman and a Briton.
This puts the number of countries involved at eight. The complexities of fighting an international war against a post-nationalist enemy which does not recognize borders (and can traverse them with ease), using government structures built in the 18th and 19th century for the pre-industrial era is going to require a lot of communication between states.
It also requires solidarity between citizens and civil society organizations around the world, separate to state efforts to defeat Islamist terrorism.