CHARLOTTE, NC, August 22, 2015 – Had it not been for a pair of US Marines and a college student who took down an Islamic jihadist on a high speed train in Belgium, who knows the amount of devastation the Islamist might have caused.
As a longtime advocate of the incredibly efficient European rail networks, I have often wondered what has kept terrorists from wreaking havoc on those systems in ways that would be catastrophic to riders and infrastructure as well as the economies of multiple Western nations.
Modern high speed trains travel at speeds reaching nearly 200 mph in several countries which means that rails are faster than flying in trips that are 3 ½ hours or less. In addition, unlike planes, trains generally take travelers from city center to city center with frequent schedules between popular destinations.
Imagine if terrorism is able to reduce the ability to simply board a train moments before departure by being forced to reduce efficiency with the use of metal detectors and other security infrastructure.
The train involved in the recent incident in Belgium is called a Thalys. It is a consortium of several nationally operated high speed rail services which primarily connect Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. When it went into service it was known as “Big Red” thanks to its bright crimson color. Many analysts like to say that Thalys is the best of all worlds because it incorporates the finest services from each of its participating countries into its high speed operation.
Responding in much the same manner as passengers on a 9/11/01 flight over Pennsylvania did by charging the terrorist and taking him down, servicemen Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone along with student Anthony Sadler decided to take matters into their own hands on Friday.
“I saw a guy entering the carriage with an AK and a handgun,” recounted Skarlatos. “At that point I ducked down and my friend Spencer, next to me, ducked down and I just looked over at Spencer and said: ‘Let’s go.’”
Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University said, “Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from and the gunman pulls out a boxcutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”
Despite reporting that the suspect was a 26-year old from Morocco or of Moroccan origin who was sympathetic to the Islamic State and who was known to French authorities, the media said that the motives for the shooting were not immediately known.
What? The “motives were not immediately known”? And we wonder why we have difficulty dealing with Muslim extremists, Islamists and the Middle East.
The perpetrator was an Islamic State sympathizer. He was a jihadist. What other motive does there need to be? Have we not heard ad nauseam, almost on a daily basis these days, that the stated goal of the Islamic State and Islamic extremism is to wipe every non-Muslim off the face of the earth? Is that not motive enough?
Spencer, who was himself injured during the fracas, had some paramedic training which he used to stop the bleeding of one passenger who had been cut in the throat.
“We just did what we had to do. You either run away or fight. We chose to fight and got lucky we didn’t die,” continued Skarlatos.
President Barack Obama was quick to praise the heroics of the three Americans for their responsiveness which saved the lives of countless other passengers.
In the wake of the attack, France, which is still reeling from a mass murder at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris last January, has placed it anti-terrorism section in charge of the case “in view of the weaponry used, the way it happened and the context.”
Of particular concern now should be whether this incident has awakened the idea among terrorist organizations to target European rail systems in the future. In 2004 the Atocha Railway Station in Madrid, Spain was attacked, but that bombing took place in the station itself and not on a train that was moving between destinations.
Almost certainly there will be debates about “lone wolf” assailants and homegrown terrorism, but most of that dialogue such as those is moot.
Terrorism is terrorism whether it is conducted by a single individual or a group. More than 90% of the extremist attacks throughout the world are conducted by Muslim jihadists, which, like it or not, means that Islam is to blame.
Perhaps, following the well deserved praise of three American heroes, Barack Obama should look at this most recent incident and consider the potential destruction his nuclear arms deal with Iran could pose in the future.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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