How Europe Left Itself Open to Terrorism
Politicians, responsible for the optimal functioning of the country and government, seem often to be use the shortest of short-term thinking, refusing to heed warnings because the problem has not yet become a disaster that must be addressed. In terms of Stephen Covey’s four quadrants (I. Urgent Important, II. Not Urgent Important, III. Urgent Not Important, and IV. Not Urgent Not Important), politicians seem to spend almost all their time attending to what is urgent, important or not, and precious little time Quadrant II, which is where you get ahead of the game. The more time spent in Quadrant II, the more Quadrant I shrinks. More details in this outline.
At any rate, the chickens are coming home to roost in the EU after years of ignoring the problem, as Sebastian Rotella recounts in ProPublica:
In June of 2015, a Belgian ex-convict named Mohamed Abrini flew to Turkey, slipped across the border into Syria and reached the Islamic State’s capital in Raqqah, where he met up with a boyhood friend planning a devastating terror strike on Paris.
Nicknamed “Brioche” because he had worked in a bakery, Abrini was not a hardcore holy warrior like his brother, who had died in Syria fighting for ISIS the year before. But his jihadi friend, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, won him over. Abaaoud took Abrini to his brother’s grave and said France was to blame for his death, according to European counterterror officials. The French were in the coalition bombing ISIS, Abaaoud said. They had to pay.
“Abaaoud really worked Abrini psychologically,” a Belgian counterterror official said. “His main motivation for participating in all this was revenge. Not Islam. He doesn’t know Islam. He’s a criminal … a street punk.”
Abrini proved an able operative. He moved confidently across borders, returning from Syria via Britain to pick up cash for the plot, according to Belgian counterterror officials. Back in Brussels, he fended off police who questioned him about a tip that he had been in Syria. Then he set to work leading a group of young extremists who were preparing the logistics for a multi-pronged attack on Paris, officials say.
Intelligence about impending attacks prompted Belgian federal police to begin surveillance on Abrini in October. On November 11, a hidden police camera filmed him leaving his home to drive with the attack team to Paris, according to counterterror officials. But the investigators were not following him, so they did not realize he was working on a plot, or alert French officials to his movements.
Two days later, attackers killed 130 people in coordinated assaults on the Bataclan concert hall, restaurants and a soccer stadium. Nine of the attackers died, but Abrini and other suspected accomplices took refuge in Brussels, where they eluded capture for another four months.
Abrini became notorious in March when Belgian authorities released a grainy security camera image of three men wheeling bomb-laden suitcases into the Brussels airport. Two died in suicide blasts, but police say Abrini lost his nerve at the last moment, fleeing as the bombs went off.
A total of 32 people died at the airport and a subway station. And the world came to know Abrini as The Man in the Hat.
Investigators soon captured him and, as they reconstructed his movements, turned up missed clues that might have prevented a disaster. Such breakdowns inevitably emerge after almost every major terror attack.
But a close look by Frontline and ProPublica at the interconnected assaults on Paris and Brussels brings to light problems that go well beyond the failure to nab Abrini. It reveals a scale of dysfunction remarkable in the annals of modern counterterrorism.
Most of the attackers and their accused accomplices were residents of Europe and well-known to police in their homelands as extremists. Six were wanted on international arrest warrants for terrorism, one for evading parole. At least nine were on terrorist watch-lists. Two had even surfaced in a 2009 investigation in which suspects discussed a potential target in Paris: the very same concert hall where the attackers slaughtered dozens in November.
Nonetheless, the suspects spent months roaming back and forth to Syria and across Europe to prepare the plot, repeatedly crossing borders and fending off police with seeming ease. At least 12 were stopped, questioned and even arrested during border crossings, checkpoint encounters and police inquiries — an excruciating series of lost opportunities.
In unusually candid interviews in recent months, present and former European counterterror officials acknowledged that ISIS exploited a litany of longtime security weaknesses that remain largely unaddressed. The vulnerabilities, they said, arise from core contradictions in the European Union, where internal borders have been abolished for travel and commerce but impede police and intelligence work.
“The flaws in the European system are multiple,” said Jean-Louis Bruguiere of France, who was a top counterterror judge for two decades. He said the Paris and Brussels attacks “should never have happened.”
“I don’t know what we are waiting for,” Bruguiere said. “Do we have to wait for hundreds of deaths?”
If political leaders do not create a more effective security system, European countries will curtail free movement across borders, critics warn. They cite Britain’s vote this year to leave the European Union as a harbinger.
“If European policy is unresponsive, we will be putting up barriers again,” Bruguiere said. “Nobody wants it, but we will not be able to do otherwise if we are incapable of protecting ourselves. And everyone will barricade themselves and Europe will no longer exist.”
In interviews, some on camera with Frontline, counterterror veterans in Europe and the United States outlined systemic problems they said they had warned political leaders about for years. (ProPublica granted some anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly or because of security concerns.) The list includes: . . .
It’s a lengthy and detailed report.