Citizens' Issues
The View From Counterterror’s Front Lines

Veteran European law enforcement officials, one of them Muslim, reflect on the roots of the Paris attacks, the tense aftermath and the debate about the effectiveness of counterterror forces


PARIS 2014 Ten days after the Paris terror attacks, Europe remains on edge. Police in Belgium, anticipating a similar assault, are on highest alert as they press the hunt for the surviving attacker with the help of law enforcement in neighboring nations. In France, the massive investigation continues. Spain and other nations have intensified defenses against a terror offensive against the West by the Islamic State. Weary, tense and somber after the bloodshed, top law enforcement officials from three countries spoke to ProPublica about the threat and and response. Three asked for anonymity because of the dangers they face and because they are not authorized to speak publicly.



The counterterror investigator was exhausted.


He had spent days hunting for Salah Abdeslam, the remaining fugitive in the Paris attacks. The other suspects are dead. They included Abdeslam's brother, who blew himself up during the massacre in Paris, and his old friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader from Belgium, who died in a fierce gunfight with French police.


But Abdeslam remained on the run, last spotted in Belgium and believed to be wearing an explosives belt like the attackers who killed and died in Paris. A human bomb ready to explode. The fugitive was one of the main reasons Belgian authorities raised the terror alert in Brussels to its maximum level Saturday. The subway system shut down. Soccer games were canceled.


Authorities urged people to stay inside and avoid crowded places. Teams of soldiers and police patrolled empty streets looking for Abdeslam and other Belgians suspected of plotting imminent suicide attacks.


"It's very weird he's still alive," the investigator said. "Maybe he has another mission. He's violent. Very dangerous."


The investigator had been working in a command post with French police deployed to Belgium to exchange information. He had participated in raids and searches, poring through data from confiscated phones and computers. The week had been a blur. He and his colleagues were still coming to the grips with a grim reality: The extremist underworld of Belgium had helped spawn the most devastating attack on European soil since the Madrid train bombings of 2004.


In addition to the physical danger, it was demoralizing to see an unprecedented swarm of foreign media on the streets of Brussels, to hear complaints that Belgian law enforcement hadn't done more to prevent the attacks.


"There has been a lot of criticism of us," the investigator said. "But we don't have big budgets. We are just a small service. We are overwhelmed. We are trying our hardest: stepping on the gas, as we say in Belgium."


Abaaoud, from the tough suburb of Molenbeek, had been a top investigative target since January, when police killed two Islamic State gunmen in the city of Verviers and foiled a plot launched by the Belgian ringleader. A court convicted Abaaoud in absentia, making him one of Europe's most wanted men. Yet he slipped back from his base in Syria to lead the Paris rampage.


Police believeAbaaoud had been back in Europe for two or three months. He was part of a team of French and Belgian foreign fighters in Syria who trained and deployed operatives on a string of plots targeting their homelands during the past two years.


Investigators are trying to figure out why Abaaoud shifted from a remote shot-caller to a frontline fighter. Perhaps senior figures in the Islamic State sacrificed him in order to ensure the success of a terror spectacular, the investigator said.


"He was a member of a command group. Not the top guy," he said. "If he's the top guy, he's never going to come back to do some shooting in France. He was like a field supervisor. A criminal who had connections in the robbery underworld, who knew France and Europe well."


"You can't just leave Syria like that," he said. "You need clearance."


As they hunted for the fugitiveAbdeslam, Belgian police were well aware that more suicide bombers took part in the Paris attacks than had ever struck at once on European soil. The investigator was perplexed about why three suicide bombers hadn't done more damage at the France-Germany soccer match at the Stade de France the night of Nov. 13. The trio failed to get inside the stadium, and killed only one victim despite the presence of crowds.


"Two of them may have blown themselves up because they were running," he said. "TATP [explosive] is unstable if you run and do crazy things; it can blow up. It may have been unintentional."


Another Belgian counterterror official said the mindset of his prey was no mystery.

"The Islamic State gives criminals an opportunity to avenge themselves," the senior official said, his voice full of disgust. "It's a pretext for hate. A chance to shoot cops, the bourgeoisie, the infidels, everyone they've always hated and resented. They have the same psychology as the mass killers you have in the United States. But they do it as a group, not as individuals."



A few days after the Paris attacks, Commandant Mohamed Douhane talked to two colleagues in the forensic division of the French national police.


They were experienced, hard-nosed crime scene investigators accustomed to all manner of mayhem and bloodshed. But no amount of experience was enough for the task of working the scene at the Bataclan music hall, a slaughterhouse where three terrorists killed 89 concertgoers.

"It was the ultimate carnage," Douhane said. "They were exhausted, obliterated. They had to go through that scene systematically and collect and record evidence. Think about what that was like. They didn't sleep for two days."


Douhane, the secretary general of the Synergie Officiers police union, has a rare perspective. He's one of the highest-ranking officers of Muslim descent in the French police, the son of an immigrant bus driver from Algeria. He believes the Paris attacks will cause an unprecedented backlash against extremism among French Muslims.


The reaction among Muslims has been stronger than after the attacks in January that killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish grocery, Douhane said. One victim in those attacks was a policewoman.


The new strike on Paris, ordered this time by Islamic State leaders, "was an attack on the French people, on young people, working neighborhoods, on the art of French living," he said.


French Muslims were shocked and saddened after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Douhane said. But some had misgivings about the worldwide "I am Charlie" campaign in solidarity with the satirical magazine, which published caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed seen as blasphemous by many Muslims. Feelings were more muted in slums where deprivation and alienation intertwine with criminality and extremism, he said. Anti-Semitism is a sad reality among angry youths in those areas, Douhane said.


"They think that by attacking a grocery they are fighting for their community," he said. "This mentality is well-ingrained. A rather sizeable minority of young Muslims manifests a brutal, violent and cretinous anti-Semitism."


Terrorists try to worsen divisions in French society, Douhane said.


"The great majority of French Muslims are completely integrated in France," he said. "The bad guys want a clash of civilizations. The Muslim community is taken hostage. They are viewed with suspicion by non-Muslims, but the Islamists say they are not true Muslims."


The proximity and power of jihad in Syria has forced French law enforcement to dig in as never before against the nexus of crime and terror.


"The fact is, any little punk from the slums can go off to Syria," Douhane said. "There are more dangerous people than ever who are capable of committing an attack. The border between gangsterism and terrorism has blurred."


The attacks have highlighted flaws in the French counterterror apparatus. Like other law enforcement officials, Douhane wonders if a recent major overhaul of the domestic intelligence system may have weakened the defenses.


Until 2008, the counterterror system worked like this: A powerful agency called the DST conducted both intelligence and investigations of major terrorist activity 2014 a role similar to the FBI's in this country. A second agency, the general intelligence division of the national police, played a key part with a far-flung grid of officers monitoring extremism and criminality.


Known as the RG, the intelligence division detected street-level threats with a mix of aggressive spying and open engagement with mosques and Muslim leaders. At the same time, the RG was the heir of the Napoleonic political police. The division spied on labor unions, students and politicians, and even did its own opinion polls. It also fought turf battles with the DST.


Deciding it was time for reform, French spymasters carried out an ambitious fusion of the two agencies. The result today is the General Directorate of Internal Security, known in France as the DGSI. The super-agency has consolidated operations, reduced infighting and eliminated political excesses. But in the process, nationwide intelligence-gathering has suffered at a time of increasing threats, some critics say.


"There has been a loss of effectiveness," Douhane said. "The reform was necessary, but it was too fast 2026 Especially in the provinces, the intelligence units have been destabilized. They are less operational than before."



The counterterror chief was worried about the Madrid-Barcelona soccer game. And not just because he's a Real Madrid fan.


The match between rival powerhouses is a soccer classic watched by a global audience estimated as high as 400 million. After the suicide bombings outside the Paris stadium, it seems clear that Islamic State sees soccer games as vulnerable, high-profile targets. Spanish authorities deployed more than 2,500 police and security guards for Saturday's game, an unprecedented show of force at a Spanish sporting event.


"We are ready," the counterterror chief said. "We know how bad it could have been if the bombers in Paris had gained entry to the stadium. That part of the plot seemed amateurish, thankfully."


The match in Madrid transpired without incident.


The Paris attacks, which killed 130, are not the worst terror strike in the history of mainland Europe. That sad honor goes to Madrid, where a crew of radicalized Moroccan drug dealers and al Qaida-connected militants planted bombs on commuter trains on March 11, 2004. The death toll was 191.


The skillfully timed attack played a role in the upset victory of the Socialist Party in elections three days later. Voters expressed anger at the governing center-right party for its military presence in Iraq and initial mixed signals about whether Basque or Islamic terrorists were responsible. Police pursued the bombers for a nerve-wracking three weeks. The fugitives blew themselves up during a police siege, killing a SWAT team officer.


"The Madrid attack was more sophisticated," the counterterror chief said. "They used technology, telephones that had been altered for the bombs. They stayed on the loose after the attack, trying to strike again. And there was the planning to affect the elections. But what is significant in Paris is that this is an attack by the Islamic State. It represents a qualitative leap."


Measured by the number of foreign fighters, the threat in Spain is less intense than in France or Belgium. Spanish police have identified 138 fighters who have gone to Syria compared to about 2,000 jihadis from France. Belgium has counted about 500, the largest proportionate contingent from Europe.


Nonetheless, Moroccans are plentiful in the Islamic State. Abaaoud and other attackers in Paris were of Moroccan origin and had links to the country. Spain's geography as a crossroads into Europe from Morocco makes it vulnerable. Most Spanish foreign fighters come from Ceuta and Melilla, Spain's territorial enclaves in northern Morocco. They are often grouped with European and Moroccan militants in Syria.


Like many others in European law enforcement, the Spanish counterterror chief is aghast at the ease with which terrorists elude Europe's border controls. At least two of the suicide bombers in Paris are thought to have used Syrian documents and entered via Greece in the chaotic flow of Syrian refugees.


"We have the reality of a union like the United States, but different legislation among countries," he said. "Entering Europe is easy."


An urgent question: How did Abaaoud cross the continent unnoticed to lead the plot? He may simply have used the authentic passport of someone who resembled him, the counterterror chief said.


"The Islamic State has acquired an enormous amount of blank passports, both Syrian and Iraqi," he said. "They are authentic. They also have a lot of authentic European passports at their disposal. They confiscate the passport of every foreign fighter who arrives, so they have a stock of nationalities, and they can use them to provide a fake identity based on resemblance."


The Paris rampage reflected the savagery of the Islamic State's reign in Syria and Iraq. Yet, not every foreign fighter returns bent on mass murder.


"We have had guys come back who are repentant," he said. "They are disgusted. They surrendered to police when they got back. They said, 2018I'd rather go to jail here. I can't stand what I saw in Syria.' "


Nonetheless, Spanish police have arrested militants accused of preparing attacks after radicalizing on the Internet without direct contact with the Islamic State. After being arrested at the Warsaw airport upon his return from fighting in Syria, a militant married to a Spanish woman admitted that Islamic State leaders told him to do reconnaissance on potential targets in Europe. The group's new aggressiveness requires a higher level of vigilance.


"It's a new strategy," the counterterror official. "They have intensified their activity. They want to do actions in the West."


For more reporting like this, read Sebastian Rotella's earlier reporting on the rampage in Paris.


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Aamir criticised over 'intolerance' comment in 'Incredible' India
Criticising Bollywood actor-producer Aamir Khan for his views on 'rising intolerance' in the country, film fraternity members Anupam Kher, Ram Gopal Varma and Ashoke Pandit have said as a widely followed superstar, he must spread hope and not fear.
The celebrities took to Twitter to share their opinion on Aamir's statement that his wife and filmmaker Kiran Rao feared for their son's safety and that she once asked if they should leave India.
Anupam, who earlier this month, led a march to protest against a section of artistes who had been returning their awards over 'intolerance' in the country, questioned Aamir if he had asked Kiran "which country would she like to move out to".
"Did you tell her that this country has made you Aamir Khan," the veteran actor, who has worked with Aamir in films like "Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin", "Dil" and "Rang De Basanti", tweeted.
He added: "Dear @aamir_khan. Did you tell Kiran that you have lived through more worse times in this country and but you never thought of moving out... When did 'Incredible India' become 'Intolerant India' for you? Only in the last seven to eight months? #AtithiDevoBhavah."
Aamir, in 2008, was appointed to endorse the Ministry of Tourism's Incredible India campaign.
Thus, Anupam also questioned Aamir that "presumed (the) country has become intolerant, what do you suggest to millions of Indians? Leave India? Or wait till regime changes?"
He also asked the "Satyamev Jayate" host that while on the show, "you talked about evil practices, but gave hope. So even in 'Intolerant' times you need to spread hope not fear".
Even Ram Gopal Varma came forward to question that when "Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman -- the three biggest stars of the Hindu country India are Muslims, I don't understand where intolerance is?"
"In a predominantly Hindu country, if three Muslims can become the biggest iconic superstars, that itself proves the majority aren't intolerant. Some celebs complaining about intolerance should be the last ones to complain because they became celebs in a so-called intolerant country," he added.
While stressing that "isolated incidents can't be taken as sign of intolerance", Varma also mentioned that "it's the celebs' need for creating drawing room debates to increase their popularity which flares up non existent negativity between communities."
Veteran actor Paresh Rawal, who starred in "OMG: Oh My God!" which questioned the existence of blind faith in godmen -- much like Aamir's blockbuster "PK" -- commented: "'PK' did rattle the belief of Hindus, but Aamir didn't face the wrath of Hindu or THE MAJORITY... but was superhit and made crores."
Censor board chief Ashoke Pandit made a sarcastic remark, saying: "Now that @aamir_khan also feels we are an #IntolerantNation. Let us now go all out and prove once for all that we are really intolerant.
"Kiran Rao led MAMI (film festival) where India and Indian cinema were celebrated. @aamir_khan is himself a superstar loved and celebrated pan-India. Where is the intolerance?"
There was few names who supported Aamir -- music composer Vishal Dadlani of the Vishal-Shekhar duo, and filmmaker Sanjay Gupta.
He said: "More power to your voice, @aamir_khan Sir! This is OUR country, it belongs to ALL Indians. Not to rabid lunatics from any party/religion. Thanks to Aamir Sir, for speaking against intolerance! Proud to see the giants of film, use their voices for India."
Gupta brought the focus to Aamir's full statement, which the latter made at an awards event in the capital on Monday.
"'That was a disastrous statement for Kiran to make.' Aamir Khan's next line after saying that Kiran wants to leave. Hear the full interview. Those accusing Aamir Khan of being intolerant, please have the tolerance to watch the whole interview. Nowhere does he say he wants to leave India."
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.



J Pinto

11 months ago

The Prime Minister has the audacity to repeatedly state even in Wembley - "(Indian) Mulsims should emulate Sufi Islam"

Who is he to advise people on their personal beliefs.

The agenda of the BJP mirrors the "cultural" agenda of the RSS.

Hindutva supremacy.

Hindutva is not defined as pride in true Hindu traditions of Sarva Dharma Sambhava.

Hindutva is defined as suspicion, mistrust, contempt for and eventually hatred towards minorities.

BJP speaks with a forked tongue and cannot be trusted if they deny this objective of Hindutva.

J Pinto

11 months ago

As Amir said after seeing all the hate messages and mail.

"You guys have prooved the point I was trying to make"

J Pinto

11 months ago

The BJP Bhakts ask “Where is the intolerance ?”

Let us acknowledge the RSS and its allies were truly a fringe element in the fight to constitute a free India, the India over which they today claim exclusive rights.

There has been an unprecedented attack by members of the elected Government on the secular and humanitarian credentials and deep tolerance that has defined India, a nation born through great human sacrifice and constituted into a multi-cultural Republic on 26-Jan-1950.

Had these guilty Hindutva supremacists MPs and Ministers received the penalties prescribed under the Indian Penal Code or at least been summarily dismissed from the party for hurting the religious sentiments of 250 million or more Indians, then we would not have to worry about the intolerance expressed by these so called “fringe” voices.

BJP MP Niranjan Joshi calls 250 million or more non-Hindus (another 200 million Dalits and Tribals certainly do not subscribe to Hindutva supremacist beliefs) “Haram-zade” and receives a gentle tap on the knuckles. A similar statement by a common man would have resulted in incarceration under the Indian Penal Code. In her case since her speech was “legally protected inside Parliament” it should have at least warranted instant dismissal from the party.

“Cultured” Minister Mahesh Sharma said President Abdul Kalam was a patriot “despite being a Muslim” thus instantly demonising 170 million fellow Muslim citizens. For this he is rewarded with the allotment of Late President Kalam’s desirable bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi.

Two Dalit children are burnt alive and Union Minister VK Singh likens the event to holding the Central Government responsible if stones are thrown at a dog. Minister Singh is allegedly “reprimanded” by the Home Minister when he should have been dismissed for his grossly insensitive and highly inflammatory remarks.
BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj considers Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Godse a patriot and his party is OK with it.

And yet the BJP Bhakts ask “Where is the intolerance” ?

We those who are against Hindutva supremacy ask “Where is the sense of humanity and common decency. Where is the sense of fraternity with all minorities enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Where is the reverence for the Father of the Nation ?”

subramanian dharmarajan

11 months ago

Every country has issues and most of the middle class and poor want to move out to earn money fro their families.This guy got all th e money for his so called talent here,can afford all teh security that is possible from state or personally,and still says he is insecure..Compared to the lady who lost her soldier husband and will face hardships to bring up her children still insists she will fight it out and have her children join forces..its time we stop claling these guys "heroes".they are merely "actors"


11 months ago

For the intolerance nautanki gang which may never understand our love for our motherland. . .



11 months ago

All those who do not agree with Aamir's view point, must take a pledge that they will not see the film in which Aamir is there. Same is true when people oppose Indo-Pak cricket, can the people take a pledge that they will stop seeing the cricket matches arranged by BCCI? This will be the best reply to such people, self control and effective implementation. Let's see how many come in support or oppose?


11 months ago

Making a generalized staetment by either Amir or Rahman, writers and film directors, congress & other party is not a way to express the individuals feeling. Like Rahman, if example be given, remedial measures will also be find out by the public. How many Indians would support to Saniya Mirza playing with short dress and hugging her male partner on court? but once they under stand that it is a requirement of game and emotions, even the fatwa against her by her religious leaders had no meaning. She is still being given the same respect as earlier even after marrying a Pakistani. Who can say Indians are not tolerant people? Further, i do not understand why people are making a big issue on Amir's comment? Do India need people selfish people like Amir in India. If he and his family wish to go out, they should be welcome with open heart, Govt must cancel his and his family passport and ask him to get settled where they are safe and acceptable.

Anand Vaidya

11 months ago

Where was Aamir Khan when Sikhs were butchered in 1984? Or when hundreds of Muslims were shot dead in Bihar? Or when Kashmiri Pundits were subjected to genocide?

Aamir also falls now in the opportunistic vulture camp - ready to exploit situation to benefit himself and no one else. These are some "great" role models. Not.

India, Singapore sign strategic partnership, 9 deals
India and Singapore signed a joint declaration on strategic partnership and nine bilateral accords on Tuesday, the second day of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to this city state.
Modi and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signed the joint declaration on strategic partnership to elevate bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership to deepen and broaden engagement in existing areas of cooperation and catalyse new ones ranging from political, defence and security cooperation to economic, cultural and people to people contact”, an official statement said.
“The strategic partnership is also a framework to contribute to greater regional stability and growth,” it added.
Besides this, two agreements on defence cooperation and loan of artifacts from India to Singapore, two executive programme/operationalisation documents on arts and culture, and white-shipping, and five memorandums of agreement (MoUs) on cyber security, civil aviation, knowledge exchange in the field of planning, urban planning, and combating drug trafficking were also signed.
The agreement on defence cooperation enhances cooperation in the field by providing for defence ministers’ dialogue, joint exercises between armed forces, and cooperation between defence industries to identify areas of co-production and co-development, the statement said.
The second agreement “extends the loan of Indian artifacts to the Asian Civilisations Museum of Singapore”.
The operationalisation document on arts and culture is on an “executive programme on cooperation in the fields of the arts, heritage, archives and library” between the Indian and Singaporean governments for the years 2015-2018.
The second operationalisation document has been signed following the technical agreement on sharing white-shipping or commercial shipping information about movement of cargo ships between the Indian and Singapore navies signed on July 21, 2015.
“Following the signing of technical agreement between the two navies on sharing white-shipping information in July 2015, both navies have established a two-way linkage. This has enhanced bilateral cooperation in the area of maritime security,” the statement said.
The MoU on cyber security was signed between the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) and the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCERT), 
“The MoU promotes closer cooperation and exchange of information pertaining to cyber security between the computer emergency response teams of the two countries by establishment of a broader framework for future dialogue; exchange of information on cyber-attacks; research collaboration in smart technologies; exchange of information on prevalent cyber security policies and best practices as well as professional exchanges,” the statement said.
The MoU on civil aviation “facilitates mutual cooperation in a number of mutually agreed areas of civil aviation services and airport management beginning with Jaipur and Ahmedabad airports”.
The third MoU promotes knowledge and information exchange in areas such as urban planning, waste water management, solid waste management and public-private partnerships between India's NITI Aayog and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE). 
The MoU on combating drug “facilitates and enhances cooperation by exchange of information on trends in the illicit manufacture and those arrested on drug trafficking charges and establishes direct contact points” between the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of India and the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) of Singapore.
“Capacity building, skill upgrading and knowledge development are also identified as areas of cooperation,” the statement said.
The fifth MoU was signed between the Town and Country Planning Organisation of India and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise in Capacity Building in the field of urban planning and governance.
It provides for participation of government officials from India in capacity-building programmes in areas such as urban planning and management.
The documents were signed following bilateral talks between Modi and Lee here.
After the signing of the documents, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted that the two prime ministers noted the importance of culture between the two countries and encouraged more exhibitions, exchanges and interactions.
Modi and Lee noted their shared interest in furthering cooperation in the areas of science and technology, particularly in space, biomedicine and ayurveda, the spokesperson added.
The two prime ministers also released two postal stamps showing Rashtrapati Bhavan and Istana, the Singaporean presidential palace, to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. 
Earlier on Tuesday, Modi was accorded a ceremonial welcome at Istana following which he met Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Modi arrived in Singapore from Malaysia on Monday on a bilateral visit in the second and last leg of his four-day visit to southeast Asia. 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.


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