Call for tighter safety measures on trains

Three French soldiers patrolling the Gare du Nord train station in Paris last Friday. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said multinational patrols already existed in major stations, but that ministers had agreed to increase their "efficiency
Three French soldiers patrolling the Gare du Nord train station in Paris last Friday. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said multinational patrols already existed in major stations, but that ministers had agreed to increase their "efficiency and use them more".PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Europe ministers want more multinational patrols, named tickets following foiled attack

PARIS • European ministers called last Saturday for more multinational patrols and tickets marked with passengers' names on major continental trains in the wake of the foiled terrorist attack this month.

The group of ministers meeting in Paris also called for increased checks on passengers and baggage at major stations and for the European Commission to tighten gun laws, in a joint statement read by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

"It is indispensable to put in place coordinated and simultaneous checks on certain targeted routes," said Mr Cazeneuve, adding that efforts were under way to improve information-sharing on suspected terrorists.

The ministers called on the Commission to beef up gun laws by the end of the year "to reinforce traceability... and fight trafficking (of arms) on the Internet".

Mr Cazeneuve said multinational patrols already existed in major stations, but that ministers had agreed to increase their "efficiency and use them more". "We will also work to evaluate the consequences of introducing named tickets for international, long-distance trains," he said.

The ministers from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland arranged to meet in Paris in the wake of a foiled terrorist attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris on Aug 21.

French prosecutors have charged Ayoub El Khazzani, a 25-year-old Moroccan, with the "targeted and premeditated" attack after he stepped out of a toilet cubicle with an assault rifle, 270 rounds of ammunition and a Luger pistol strapped to his chest. He was overpowered by a group of French, British and American passengers, who have since been awarded France's top honour, the Legion d'Honneur.

The EU will convene security experts on Sept 11 to discuss the proposed measures, and transport ministers are due to meet the following month in Luxembourg to decide if new legislation is needed.

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc who attended last Saturday's meeting said: "The security and safety of passengers is our first priority. But of course we must not overreact."

Officials are limited in how much they can do to monitor suspects within the borderless "Schengen zone", which covers 26 European countries. But there have long been calls for greater intelligence cooperation between countries.

Khazzani was on the radar of several European intelligence agencies.

He was first flagged as an Islamist extremist by the authorities in Spain, where he lived until last year.

He left Spain for France, where he worked for a mobile phone operator for two months before being let go and disappearing.

Then in May this year, he popped up on intelligence radars once again when German authorities warned he had boarded a plane in Berlin bound for Turkey. In June, he surfaced in Albania, and on Aug 21, Khazzani boarded the train in Brussels, where his sister lives and he is believed to have lived for some time.

Experts have warned that little can realistically be done to guarantee safety on trains.

"Airplanes leave from a specific place - you can build a security apparatus around them," said Mr Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "It's just not possible to do that with trains. You would have to do that at every station from large terminals in Paris to small towns in rural France."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Call for tighter safety measures on trains'. Print Edition | Subscribe