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Thalys gunman was under surveillance of Belgian security services

11:35 25/08/2015

Ayoub el-Khazzani, the gunman on board a Thalys train from Brussels to Paris, who was thwarted by members of the public last Friday, had been under surveillance by the Belgian state security service, home affairs minister Jan Jambon has revealed. He was not under a strict regime of surveillance, as he was not considered to be a particular danger. 

“Hundreds of people are under surveillance, but it is practically impossible to shadow them 24 hours a day,” Jambon said. “To follow someone seven days a week requires 24 operatives.”

The root of Belgium’s problem with jihadists, he said, lies in the past. “We have a bad reputation for being home to the largest number of jihad fighters,” in Europe, he said. “That is a consequence of a failed migration policy in the past. We have to be aware if these people become radical.”

Task forces have become much more successful at identifying potential targets for radicalisation, he said. “The number of those going off to fight has halved.”

Meanwhile, the EU Commission has warned prime minister Charles Michel that the rules governing free movement in the Schengen area “are not up for negotiation”. Michel had suggested in the immediate aftermath of the Thalys attack, during which three people were injured, that the rules might be reconsidered in the light of the terrorist threat.

The fundamental principle of the Schengen accords – the removal of all physical border controls between member states, including The Netherlands, Belgium and France – are “not negotiable,” according to a Commission spokesperson. The accords contain sufficient instruments to ensure security, including a 30-day restoration of border checks in cases of emergency and spot-checks on the baggage of international passengers in operation at major departure points.

Michel, speaking in Paris where he met the three passengers responsible for tackling the gunman to the ground and disarming him, recognised the importance of a barrier-free Europe. “An amendment of the Schengen agreements would only be required if it was essential for our safety,” he said. “That has to be looked at, but always with the understanding that free movement is fully guaranteed. That is a fundamental right in Europe.”

Photo: Prime minister Charles Michel (left) and interior minister Jam Jambon
©Francois Lenoir/Reuters/Corbis


Written by Alan Hope




Aug 25, 2015 21:39