Terror is Just a Train Ride Away


22 March 2016


Ever since the attacks in Paris last year, most cities within a train ride have been anticipating another atrocity.

The Belgians caught Salah Abdeslam last Friday. He was part of the Paris attacks. But the second man they wanted, everyone wanted, Najim Laachraoui, the bomb maker slipped through the net. So did the getaway driver in Paris, Mohamed Abrini. The two on the run meant others were free covering them. That meant another attack was “on the clock” – likely.

The security alert in London and other cities is Severe – the counter-terrorism agencies have covered all known bets. But the Belgian authorities have warned at the highest levels that something was about to happen.

This morning it was Zaventem airport. An hour later Maelbeek metro station was hit. Brussels Midi train station was closed. Eurostar from London was terminating at Lille in Northern France. What is special about Lille? Modern terror is just a train ride away.

Sickenly, terror means more than corpses and wounded.

Terrorism also means the bringing to a standstill or diversion of systems we take for granted. So this morning (22 March) flights were cancelled or diverted. Railroads halted. People did not get where they expected to be.

But for most who were not in the airport and not on the metro there are two concerns: am I all right and when can I get to wherever I was heading?

Therefore the greater unlikelihood is the relationship between the Western urbanite and the poor wretches trapped in the origins of terrorism, Iraq, Syria and wherever. A Syrian child observes then plays in the rubble of that morning and a late for conference all expenses paid executive checks the board for the next flight to wherever she or he was supposed to be that afternoon.

We have now a world between the longitudes of the Tigris and Euphrates and the Iberian Peninsular that is fighting for its identity. That is what terrorism is.

Every police and security agency this day in Western Europe (hardly ever Eastern Europe) is running double checks on the terror state of its capital. Terrorists like capitals. They are less obvious and the target is more terror-efficient. Anyone, especially the nervous who avoids the carriage with the guy with a Muslim look and a backpack, who rides any subway knows this.

So if we know all this and more, what now? Now is the test of a counter-terror adage. When a terrorist team strikes they are for 48 hours on the run. When they run they are, if the intelligence report system is in place, vulnerable to capture. Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini prove some escape the net, especially the Belgian net. The Belgians are particularly bad at counter-terrorism. But the rule is reasonable sound. The terrorist team is vulnerable. But if one goes down another will form. This morning’s terror attack was successful.
Many dead. Many wounded. Many scattered. The best we can think is that more attacks have been prevented than have got through. The worst we can think is that Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini are still out there. The network that supports them is still out there. For all our habit of “carrying on” we should remind ourselves that the next act of terrorism is rarely more than a train ride away.


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