..How European Arms Trafficking is Fueling Terrorist Assaults in France
We initially felt the same as Martin Longman, trying not to add to the stream of stupidity emanating from commentators of all stripes in the wake of the 120+ Parisian murders yesterday. However, if one is to recall that this is the third high-profile assault to take place on French soil during the course of 2015 (Charlie Hebdo in January, the Thalys train attack in August); it becomes clear that the overriding issue is there are too many goddamned guns in France:
For every legal firearm in France, for example, there are nearly two illegal ones, experts say. While the exact number is not known, estimates run to 10 to 20 million illegal weapons in circulation in France’s population of 65 million.
If the Hebdo attackers did carry legally-acquired weapons, they would first had to negotiate strict laws. Applying for a gun license for hunting, target shooting, or personal protection requires not only a background check but a formal psychological evaluation. Gun licenses must be renewed every three to five years; the blacklist of those banned from owning weapons is nearly 18,000.
And laws regulating automatic or semi-automatic weapon ownership is even more restrictive. Following the 2012 shooting spree in Toulouse by Islamist gunman Mohammed Merah, punishment for possessing such weapons is harsher.
However, it is unlikely the suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack had valid firearm licenses or bought their weapons legally, experts say. Rather, they were likely procured from a black market of weapons that in France and Europe is wide and deep. The hub of one of the largest Internet trafficking rings is thought to be in Paris.
In October of this year, 48 people were arrested after raids in France found hundreds of illegal arms stashed away. The seized caches included machine guns, assault rifles, and automatic pistols.
But it would be overly optimistic to assume that the October raid wiped out France’s illegal arms trade. Finding and buying a weapon online requires simply logging on to one of several websites, and adopting a pseudonym. A click of the mouse enables one to buy a black-market Kalashnikov for between $2,000 and $4,000 dollars. A handgun goes for just over $1,000 dollars.
Nor is it that difficult to acquire weapons legally in France:
In a Youtube video posted by French pro-gun blog France Survivalist, a heavily gunned man boasts that you simply need to: “go to the doctor, ask for a certificate stating that you are fit to practice shooting, then go take a picture. It only takes five minutes. Then go to an approved shooting center and sign up for membership. They will give you a temporary shooting license – and contrary to what people will tell you, this temporary license will enable you to buy weapons.”
The man then proceeds to showcase his recently bought 12 caliber – purchased with nothing but a temporary license. “If you’re doing it right, the entire thing will take you no more than two hours,” he continues.
The video topped half a million views on Youtube.
Additionally, the recent terrorist attacks clearly prove that guns do find their way into the country. AK-47s and rocket launcher, both illegal in France, were used in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, causing the death of 12 people. A Kalashnikov was also used by the train attacker this summer. It would have potentially resulted in one of the largest terrorist-originated massacre in the country if American tourists hadn’t neutralized the attacker in time. (Thank you for that!)
No, you can thank the fact that the American (and British) passengers were able to come to the rescue due to their attacker had been literally put in a jam.
Smuggling Assault Rifles From Brussels to Paris
No one was killed when Ayoub El Khazzani burst from the restroom on Thalys 9364 as the train crossed the border from Belgium into France, and for one simple reason:
It was at 5.45pm, as the train crossed the Belgian border into northern France, that a 28-year-old French bank worker left his seat and tried to get into the toilet on coach 12. The door opened on a shirtless dark-haired man, in white trousers and trainers, who was holding a Kalashnikov across his bare chest. Inside his rucksack were nine full magazines of ammunition, holding 280 rounds, and several knives. Somewhere he also had a handgun.
Over the next few seconds there was chaos. A shot rang out, a French-American passenger fell forward in his seat, hit in the neck by a bullet from a handgun. Then came a terrifying “click, click, click” as the half-naked man held his AK-47 aloft, aiming an apparently temporarily jammed gun at occupants of the carriage.
This incident also demonstrates the fallacy that all firearms are created equal. Khazzani’s Luger pistol was incapable of killing 51-year-old American-Frenchman Mark Moogalian despite begin shot in the neck, a surprisingly common phenomenon:
The survival rate from pistol gunshot wounds is approximately 86%. Rifle-caliber ammunition, on the other hand, is tailored for maximum lethality. Had his Kalashnikov begun firing as Khazzani intended, there would have been a bloodbath. Instead, three Americans and a British man were awarded medals for heroism…
[Notice the blood still on Norman’s shirt. It probably was from USAF Airman Spencer Stone’s Khazzani-inflicted knife wounds].
…and got to pose with the French head of state:
Largely ignored is the fact that one man was able to smuggle an AKM assault rifle from Brussels to Paris aboard a high-speed train. Yesterday the Daily Beast yammered on about the Balkan origin of these weapons:
Many of the weapons flow from Russia via the Balkan states into the rest of Europe including France. Russian firms manufactured the guns and supplied them to armed groups battling each other in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo. When those conflicts ended in the mid- to late-1990s, the weapons remained—as many as six million of them, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (PDF).
Correctly anticipating foreign demand for military-grade weaponry, traffickers defied half-hearted efforts on the part of governments to remove guns from circulation. “Most of the legislation in the region is still in its early stages and untested,” Small Arms Survey concluded.
Guns soon became a major export commodity in the Balkans. Western Europe is the target market. “Many firearms trafficked in Europe come from the western Balkans after being held illegally after recent conflicts in the area,” Europol reported. In just one case from 2014, Slovakian cops intercepted a truck trying to enter the country with “a large number of grenades and firearms,” according to Europol. “The vehicle was travelling from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Sweden.”
And it’s not like the stream of weapons will end when dealers in the Balkans run out of war-vintage leftovers. “One of the reasons we see a lot of Kalashnikovs and AK-47s on the black market is because Russia has just upgraded the Kalashnikov,” Kathie Lynn Austin, an expert on arms trafficking with the Conflict Awareness Project, told Al Jazeera, “and that has created massive stockpiles of the older models.”
On March 6, 2012, French lawmakers passed a law tightening up gun regulation and increasing penalties for illegal ownership. Just five days later, Mohamed Merah—a French jihadist of Algerian descent—went on shooting rampage, killing seven people in three separate attacks in around Toulouse before a police sniper shot him dead.
Merah’s arsenal included an AK-47, an Uzi, a Sten submachine gun, a shotgun, and several pistols—all illegal. “He could only supply himself on the black market or from crime organizations, that’s clear,” Thierry Coste, a pro-gun lobbyist, told The Christian Science Monitor.
In October 2014, French police raided several homes across the country, breaking up an Internet-based smuggling ring, arresting 48 suspected traffickers, and seizing hundreds of illegal guns. Three months later on Jan. 7 this year, jihadist gunmen wielding AK-47s shot up Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people.
Weapons are still flowing into the country and into the hands of violent extremists. And on a Friday night in November, heavily-armed terrorists opened fire yet again, in a lawful country with few legal guns that has the misfortune to be surrounded by lawless countries… with lots of guns.
So, does that make Belgium, Italy and Switzerland lawless? Perhaps–after all, Ayoub El Khazzani is thought to have purchased his Kalashnikov at a notorious location (where the Charlie Hebdo attackers purchased their weapons) yards from the Gare du Midi station where Khazzani embarked the Paris-bound train. Moreover, he was easily able to smuggle the assault rifle onto the Thalys train from Brussels…
…though what were the odds that he could have smuggled his AKM through security at Brussels National onto a flight to Paris-Orly or Roissy Airports?
Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless.
The first variety have taken place almost entirely behind the scenes. Explosives scanning for checked luggage, for instance, was long overdue and is perhaps the most welcome addition. Unfortunately, at concourse checkpoints all across America, the madness of passenger screening continues in plain view. It began with pat-downs and the senseless confiscation of pointy objects. Then came the mandatory shoe removal, followed in the summer of 2006 by the prohibition of liquids and gels. We can only imagine what is next.
Irrational and pointless? Pat downs result from magnetometer (metal detector) alarms and shoe removal is due to the 2001 attempt to bring down American Flight 63…irrational isn’t the first word that comes to mind. But Pico Iyer’s strongest statement (often-repeated) from his 2007 editorial veers directly into the weeds:
Thus, what most people fail to grasp is that the nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes is not really the job of airport security at all. Rather, it’s the job of government agencies and law enforcement. It’s not very glamorous, but the grunt work of hunting down terrorists takes place far off stage, relying on the diligent work of cops, spies and intelligence officers. Air crimes need to be stopped at the planning stages. By the time a terrorist gets to the airport, chances are it’s too late.
Huh? Even the normally sober-minded airline pilot/Ask the Pilot author Patrick Smith has fallen for this sentiment, which neglects to recall that the deadly threat to American 63 and Northwest 253 was PETN and TATP, not murderous thoughts. Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were dangerous not because they wanted to kill hundreds of people but because they successfully smuggled explosives onto airliners.
The same could be said about Ayoub El Khazzani in Brussels. French intelligence knew of the future-failed gunman, just as the two failed suicide bombers were known to American and British intelligence services prior to their crimes. Also like Reid and Abdulmutallab, the failure of Khazzani’s primary weapon (an AKM assault rifle) led to his apprehension without fatalities. Question: are all three of these crimes intelligence failures, or security screening failures?
No, I Shot Him. The Bullets and the Fall Killed Him.
The “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” slogan always seems to ring hollow, like it is a quotation from the villain in a Michael Mann film.
One problem is the EU’s Schengen Area open border agreements, which let Europeans travel freely between countries without comprehensive border checks, according to the Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank in London. “It’s actually quite difficult to get this sort of weaponry in the United Kingdom … in contrast, on the continent in France and other countries, the free movement that is enabled by the Schengen Zone and the EU means that it’s much easier to cross borders. Some countries have slightly looser or different gun laws than others,” he said.