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24 August 2015

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Margaret Steinfels

What are the French investigators likely to charge him with?

Patrick Bahzad

probably a number of charges that are likely to send him away for a long time: organisation of an "individual terrorist enterprise" (if they can't prove any connection to a larger conspiracy), based on a new law targeting the "lone wolf" issue, attempted murder in the first degree, possession of illegal military grade weapons and ammunition.

The most difficult part will be to prove he's been part of some type of conspiracy, but should it been proven he's been to Syria and joined ranks with IS or JaN, that should be enough to make that charge stick, as both groups feature among the international terror groups France has listed.

He could also be charged and sentenced in Belgium, given that it was on Belgian territory that he boarded the train and started carrying out his attack.

Long story short, he's going away for a very long time.

DC

Patrick, thanks for the excellent research into this case. The picture here is one of great challenge to inter-state intelligence agencies; even with refinements to information-sharing it seems the prospect of cornering radicalized individuals before they act is an ongoing problem.

Unfortunately, my guess is EU countries must do more to infringe on "privacy" rights than they have so far, in a joint effort. The fact that SIM card-enabled communication is untraceable (or is difficult to trace or record) must end. It may also be inferred that radicalized individuals have decided to live mostly "off the grid" in order to be undetected. Radicalized militias of "the homeless" may not be far off in the horizon, imo, unless something is done to be aware of their movements.

confusedponderer

Margaret,
there are two issues here:

The first is about jurisdiction. Here we have a guy on a high speed train travelling through two countries without stop. He entered in Bruxelles and was brought to Arras in France. Arguably he has violated the laws of both Belgium and France. There are European deconflicting rules for such cases. My hunch is that he'll likely be tried in France.

Secondly, even without specific terrorism charges, he'll at the very least face the obvious two - attempted murder and possession of illegal firearms. Enough to lock him up for a long time.

Unrelated to that, according to the Welt, the man is shocked, shocked that he is accused of a terrorist act. In fact, he contends he was was malnourished and wanted to rob the train to buy food, and had the AK with him to shoot up a window to escape.

I recall some nonsense like that from other cases like that. Is is it a standard MO that folks like him tell police and attorney BS like that to game the system? The story is so implausible that it borders to insult.

tv

What's a "long time" in a French prison?

Patrick Bahzad

DC,

Agree about the issue of cooperation between inter-state intel agencies. The EU may have to come up with something like a European equivalent to the DHS, maybe a task force within Europol, I can't say.

It is a big challenge and there are inter-agency rivalvries at work too, but it would be in everybody's interest to extent the scope of the current "European Information System".

Regarding anti-terrorism legislation, there is a legal hurdle, which is that each country has its own laws. France has seriously toughened up its anti-terrorism stance since last year and has now the legal means experts had been calling for. This is not the case however in every EU country yet.

As far as "privacy rights" are concerned, yes, I think there is a need for more targeted monitoring of online trafic and activities, but I would still advocate against any attempt at indiscriminate collection of bundles of Internet traffic in NSA style (Europe doesn't have the logistics to do this anyway).

Finally, you're right about the "off the grid" thing. Individuals likely to commit an act of terrorism are being schooled more and more in the "art" of avoiding detection (just as the Kouachi brothers, who attacked the Charlie Hebdo newspaper). They have learnt from past experience, that cells and networks may be more professional, but easier to infiltrate and neutralize.

The odd self-radicalized "lone wolf" (which does not exist in my view) is much more difficult to identify prior to action, even though he is amateurish and incompetent with weapons. The symbolic and psychological effect can still be huge.

This is why I would argue that it is paramount to increase and refine our intelligence and detection capabilities in a number of areas crucial to counter-terrorism. It doesn't require more surveillance (especially not of the average citizen) but better surveillance of individuals (and in some cases groups) likely to be a risk. I know this won't go down well with certain civic rights activists, who'll see cases of potential discrimination and ethnic/racial profiling, but in France at least, politics as well as law enforcement professionals are going to push for this (and a large majority of the citizens are already asking for it).

Patrick Bahzad

- 30 years without parole for first degree murder in relation with terrorist enterprise
- up to 22 years without parole for any other violent crime. this would be the maximum penalty Khazzani is facing in France.

After that, he could still be extradited to Belgium to serve time there, or "renditioned" to Morocco (unless there is specific evidence, he would face "cruel or inhuman treatment" in his home country).

Amir

He cannot be be jailed twice in two different countries in Europe for the same crime. Although I have no objective info about this, the Belgian law inforcement is lax and generally speaking he would be best brought to court in France.

The common thread in all these terrorist cases is their link with Salafism, travel to Turkey, assault on Syria and Saudi funding. Maybe instead of attacking the privacy laws in Europe, there should be a concerted effort to shut Turkey out of the E.U. market (let alone membership). They don't have too many corners to turn to. Russia, Iran nor China are too fund of these Saudi-sponsered fundis. Al Saud's (I am not talking even about Saudi Arabai) as suseptible to dealing of in the way of Cosa Nostra would deal with another "La familia". Not that violence should be perpetrated but rather that the focus should be family based rather than country based.

Patrick Bahzad

Who says it's for the same crimes ? If he attacked someone on the train while still being on Belgian soil, that is not the same as what he did when he was on French soil.

mbrenner

"EU countries must do more to infringe on "privacy" rights"

Could you please explain this would entail and how it possibly could have made any difference in this case?

Same with Charlie Hebdo killers. They were known, they were under surveillance without restriction, yet they managed to carry out their mission. In part, this is simply a numbers problem: how many of these guys can you tail indefinitely?

DC

I'm no expert -- one reason why I read this forum for enlightenment! Patrick gave an informative answer above, I think. Personally, I think more tech-based surveillance, on the NSA model, may be necessary, unfortunately. Less contractors (as we have in the U.S.) and more full-time, vetted, and well-managed intelligence professionals would make me feel more comfortable, if I were a citizen in the EU.

Patrick Bahzad

MB,

I think you are mistaken, in the sense that most European countries don't have laws similar to the US with regard to terrorism.

As far as Charlie Hebdo killers are concerned, you're making wrong assumptions: there were actually a lot of restrictions regarding their surveillance.

I'm not gonna go into detail as I'm not prepared to give recipes for circumventing anti-terror laws, but one example I'll give (because recent legislation changed this shortcoming) is the following: the Kouachi brothers used their wifes' mobile phones to communicate with each other, because they knew that French law prohbited wiretaping relatives' phones when there was no evidence to back up such a request.

Given there was no evidence to present to a judge, the wifes' phones were not tapped and the two brothers managed to communicate with each other that way for months.

I agree however with your question about numbers. But this can be partly overcome with new legislation that has been passed late in 2014.

Being allowed to use wire-taps, monitor internet activities and geolocate an individual doesn't mean everybody is under surveillance, but anybody who could potentially require "scanning" can be now, more extensively.

Abu Sinan

Excellent write up. One item that seems to come up with all such jihadis in the west are runs in with the police, especially in regards to drug/alcohol issues.

It would seem to me that Muslims in these countries with these types of records are being groomed purposely. It is a common belief that anyone who dies as shahada (martyr) instantly gains heaven regardless of past sins. If you can radicalise someone with this type of a past, then there is great incentive for them to seek martyrdom to expiate their sins.

I think this will be rather common thread for future jihadis, as well as past jihadis.

The Twisted Genius

Patrick,

Those targeted technical surveillance means you describe are just what is needed. The NSA "collect it all" approach is a waste of resources and a dissipation of efforts. As you also said, the hard core terrorists are going old school, forgoing their cell phones and other technology. Law enforcement must dust off their old school skills to meet this threat.

BabelFish

Patrick, thank you for the write up!

How traceable would the firearms and ammunition be, in a European setting? I am sure that this is all part of the investigation that is ongoing but it always seems to be a big part of the story in America, when we read about mass shootings.

Babak Makkinejad

A Shahid - "Witness" - is one that has lost his life in defense of Islam in a war declared by a Just& Legal Authority that can make such a declaration of war.

A two-bit sheikh in Morocco or Syria or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or anywhere else can make his opinion known. But that legal scholar lacks the authority to make a statement of declaration of war on behalf of Islam.

Within Sunni Islam, that authority has not existed for over a century - if you accept the pretensions of Ottoman Sultans - or not at all since the demise of the last Abbasid Caliphate in 1258.

That jihadists do not care about such arguments leads me to believe that they have low IQ.

Patrick Bahzad

TTG,

Exactly right. They're avoiding detection by going low tech, not high tech. Again the 9/11 analysis of Wesley Clark remains valid in that regard "low tech, high concept". This may or may not be true in this case, but it is certainly the trend of recent years.
Add to it, the sheer number of individuals featuring on terror watch lists, and everybody should understand it's not about more full spectru surveillance, but about targeted, fit for purpose intel and monitoring.
In order to do so, you need intelligence professionals who are able to read a profile, not just a cyber/online "footprint". For example, when a person of interest all of a sudden quits smoking, there might be more to it, than just a personal health issue ...

Patrick Bahzad

BF,

I think, just based on personal experience, that the weapons will be traced quickly. Even if serial numbers have been filed off, there are other ways of determining place of origin.

In this case, I think it's already pretty safe to assume they AK-47 came for the former Yougoslavia, which is not very interesting a lead as theyre are so many of those on the Belgian illegal arms market.

The Luger however should be more interesting to follow up. We shall see ... Wouldn't be suprised if arrests are made in days to come in Belgium, possibly Brussels, Antwerp or Charleroi area.

walrus

Thank you so much Col. Bahzad for your excellent account.

Could I be forgiven for wondering if we are dealing with an organisation - an international network, that specialises in manufacturing "product" like Khazzani, handling the logistics of moving, feeding and arming the product and then providing a prepackaged operation for it to execute?

What I now ask is how much more "product" is in the pipeline? Where and how can we disrupt the network that is manufacturing terrorism, particularly if they understand the limitations of high tech surveillance?

As for checking ID on European high speed rail, I didn't notice any checks when I used it last month. I had to provide ID to buy the ticket but that was all.

Patrick Bahzad

Walrus,

First of all, thank you for crediting me with the rank of Colonel ! For the record, I never gave the rank I was holding when I left active service. But anyway, thx again for the mere assumption, flatters my ego ;-)

As far as I'm concerned, there's only one Colonel here and that's PL. I'm happy to be addressed on a first name basis, no worries.

Regarding your question, I don't think there is an assembly line that puts a finished product on the market, so to speak.

There are however "enablers" who encourage desperate, disoriented or just fanatical young men (and women) to do things that they might not have done on their own (no "lone wolves" as such). This is true for Western Europe, but also - to a lesser degree - for the US and other Western countries, like Canada or Australia.

However, this doesn't mean that these enablers and their organisations are heavily involved logistically, as this would make it easier to track them and their assets. If you're interested, you should look up Wikipedia for Abu Musab Al-Suri or for a manual called "the management of savagery".

Regarding how much product is in the pipeline, again it's a flow not a stock. What is true today might be different from what will be true tomorrow. Suffice to say there's enough raw material to carry on like this for quite some time.

Finally, regarding transport security, there's no quick fix. Besides, increasing indiscriminate security measures that are a pain in the a*ss for everybody might reassure the average citizen, but will not necessarily improve security as such.

As I mentioned earlier, better security doesn't mean more surveillance.

Babak Makkinejad

The population of Muslims living within Seljuk boundaries is about 210 million souls.

There are 1.54 billion Muslims in the world.

You can make your own calculations as to the probability of a terrorist incident taking place West of the Diocletian Line based on the terrorist attack data currently available.

Probabilities are just rations of numbers.

mbrenner

Patrick

You know France better than I. Still, I know enough to understand that the alleged restriction on tapping the brothers' wives' phones in practice did not prevent the authorities from monitoring them. I have this from high officials. That is a handy excuse for failure. I should also say that I am leery of assertions that "you'd see things differently if only you knew what I know." We've heard this line incessantly for 14 years as an all purpose fall-back argument on matters of this sort. In this case, you may very well know things of importance - but I'm sure you'll understand that a reasonable person no longer can accept such a claim even from a person of evident integrity.

We also have a mass of anecdotal evidence that French intelligence agencies habitually bend the rules - even to the point of tracking down Jacques Chirac's conversations with ceramic antique dealers in Tokyo.. The powers of intelligence and security agencies are far more extensive than they are in the US - just speaking of legal powers. The problem with the Kouachi brothers, as I am told, stemmed from the messy handover from one jurisdiction to another when they moved from Paris to the suburbs. In addition, officials had concluded - after tracking these guys for a year - that they posed no threat.

The resort to more powers/fewer restrictions is a knee-jerk reaction everywhere. We see from the 14 year experience of the US that hundreds of billions of dollars and the shredding of the 4th amendment have not enhanced American domestic security one iota.

As to other European countries, surely there is great variation. The British authorities, for one, have even more latitude (legal) than than the rogue American agencies.

Again, I pose the question: exactly what value would more extensive surveillance have had in this latest case? Obviously, the answer is none.

mbrenner

"In order to do so, you need intelligence professionals who are able to read a profile, not just a cyber/online "footprint".

Obviously true. From what we know, the Spanish and French read his profile correctly and dealt with it in a responsible fashion. The guy just disappeared. Let's bear in mind that "low-tech" correlates with the amateurism of so many of these people. It may be less a considered strategy than just a practical realization of what you are limited to doing with bodies like this Moroccan. They are like primitive rockets - if they are available in large enough numbers, they can be assembled and do serious damage. Otherwise, they're a nuisance whose main value is to rattle the nerves of an already very nervous target audience. We should be thankful that clusters of these types have yet to form and to be launched. Why? That strikes me as a more important question that how we can weave so fine a mosquito screen as to ensure that not one of them gets through.

Patrick Bahzad

MB,

There's a lot in what you say in your post, some of it I can agree with, some I don' really understand what you mean or what you getting at.

When I'm referring to things I rather leave unsaid, it's not in relation to pieces of information that might justify further surveillance, but only to possible loopholes in existing legislation that might be used by the 'bad guys' to avoid detection.

Furthermore, I'm not advocating for more surveillance, far from it. If you read my reply correctly, you'll understand I would like better intelligence, better detection and better prevention, not MORE of it.

The notion European agencies have more powers than US counterparts is not a realistic reflection of the situation, in my view. The NSA tracks all forms of electronic communications, full spectrum. Which European country does this or has the means to do this ?

As far as the Kouachi brothers are concerned, they were subject to surveillance and monitoring for extended periods, that is true. But given that surveillance didn't turn up with anything, it was terminated, in accordance with current legislation. There were a number of limitations concerning law enforcement action against them that was definitely detrimental to the assessment of the threat they represented.

Doesn't mean that what you mention isn't true, but these are more procedural and administrative internal issues, i.e. "fuck ups" or "human errors" that will always be possible.

Stories and anecdotes about French intel agencies' antics and borderline illegal actions, that may be true for a not so distant past, but again it's not a reflection of the current situation. I'll take the Pepsi "abuse of human rights" test against any US agency (other than the FBI) any day of the week !

Again, as I stated before, it's not more surveillance that is necessary, not more internet monitoring or more data collection, but better prevention, better analysis and better identification of threats.

Hope this is clear (and reassuring) enough an answer.

Patrick Bahzad

Agree again, profile was handled adequately up until May 2015 approx. After that, intel sharing seems to have been too slow to catch up with the guy. As I pointed out, think there needs to be a more centralized way of storing and sharing information that is available at this point to national agencies only.

We also don't have a European wide PNR for airline passengers, and rely on each other's agencies to do the required screening. Another potential source of error ...

Regarding the amateur vs professional debate, I'm not sure "low tech" correlates with less proficiency. Why should they go high tech, if high tech means higher probabibility of detection ? On the contrary, we should be able to go "low tech" as well in our skills, that's the kind of full spectrum dominance I would advocate for: we rule the ground with anything that is "high tech", but we're not good enough in the old ways and we don't have the human assets and capabilities to achieve that kind of dominance right now.

Finally, have to disagree with the rationale regarding danger. A couple only of those "primitive rockets" could disrupt the democratic functioning of our States in a way that could be catastrophic.

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