French Train Terror: Reason Goes Off The Rails

Even accounting for terrorism, train travel has never been safer. So why the fear?
Even accounting for terrorism, train travel has never been safer. So why the fear?


After the 22nd August’s foiled Islamist attack on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, it is proven that ballsy citizens are the best way to combat terrorism, not panic-prone government policy.  French-American academic Mark Moogalian, 51, tried to apprehend Moroccan-born Ayoub El-Khazzani, 25, when he emerged from a toilet armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.  Moogalian was shot in the back with El-Khazzini’s concealed pistol, but three other travelling Americans, Spencer Stone, Aleksander Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Briton Chris Norman eventually subdued El-Khazzani.  Stone treated Moogalian’s wound, probably saving his life.  They have all been awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion D’Honneur by President Francois Hollande in recognition of their bravery.

Sadly the fact that this terror attack was subdued by gutsy civilians is being overwhelmed by nervous security policy that will just make people more fearful rather than genuinely empowered like heroes Moogalian, Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler, and Norman.  Nine EU countries are implementing baggage scans, identity checks, and more armed guards for all train journeys that will increase, not decrease, the level of fear experienced by passengers, undermining their confidence in tackling a terrorist nutter when they (very rarely) do appear.  Short of having airport-style body scanners in all of the EU’s train stations (logisitically impossible), there is no way of guaranteeing someone hasn’t sneaked aboard a weapon.  Scaremongering by militarising the railway therefore makes little sense, unless of course Euro elites want us to be constantly afraid.

Western leaders have been lavishing praise on the five heroes in the hope of syphoning off some of society’s admiration for themselves.  After Ice Cube, one of the founding members of hip-hop group ‘Niggers With Attitude’, recognised Sadler in a Paris restaurant, Sadler was invited to the French premiere of movie ‘Straight Outta Compton’, joining stars on the red carpet.  “I feel like I’m in a dream, it’s unreal,” the Sacramento State University student said as he attended the prestigious event. “It’s pretty crazy.” The fawning over the heroes does indeed have a dream-like quality, because in the waking world security officials do not deserve to be basking in the glow of such courage – their policy response rather indicates a great deal of merde in their underwear.

Prior to 22/8, the last terror attack on France’s railway network was on December 3, 1996, and claimed two lives in a powerful explosion.  Before that, there was an attack on the Saint-Michel station on the Paris Metro in July 1995 that killed eight and wounded 80.  These attacks were more severe, yet did not lead to increased policing of everyday travel in a country at the heart of Europe.  Back then, there were high-level meetings of officials, and paramilitary security sweeps of North African neighbourhoods that ring-fenced many French cities and ID checks.  But the whole of the EU was not put on alert, nor were the majority of train travellers inconvenienced by intrusive security scans that could compromise the efficiency and smooth running of the network.

We should remember that terrorist incidents on trains are exceptionally rare.  In France, there are over a billion passengers per year using the network.  Yet with the exceptional years of 1995-6 when Algerians were a bit peeved at French post-colonial policy, there have been no deaths from terrorist incidents.  President Hollande should not feed people’s fears, he should assuage them with reason.  He should state the truth that if the past 20 years are anything to go by, one’s chances of dying in a terror attack on the railway are 10 billion to one.  One is more likely to die from a train accident, falling out of the door, or choking on a croissant on the advanced French railway than one is likely to be a victim of terrorism.

EU policy makers therefore need to get some perspective and be more concerned about the messages they are sending out.  For if a lone-wolf from Morocco can seem to induce paranoia on the railway, surely policy makers are inviting more of the same by over-reacting in this way.  Indeed French security officials have said there’s no way to monitor each passenger and bag without choking the continental train system, which Europeans rely upon heavily.  So it would still be possible for an El-Khazzani to sneak aboard, but now in the full knowledge he can terrorise an entire continent.  We would be better off recalling the words of George Orwell who, amidst fascist violence, said “the thing that I saw in your face no power can disinherit, no bomb that ever burst shatters the crystal spirit.”  That was the spirit of the heroes on 22/8, let’s not ‘dishonneur’ their attitude.


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