How Do You Stop a Future Terrorist When the Only Evidence Is a Thought?In other words, concentration camps …
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI JUNE 21, 2016
MAGNANVILLE, France — The first time Larossi Abballa appeared on the radar of French terrorism investigators, the only act of violence they could pin on him was killing bunnies.
He had joined a small group of men, all bent on waging jihad, on a trip to a snowy forest in northern France five years ago, when he was 19. There, they videotaped themselves slaughtering the rabbits, bought so the men could grow used to the feel of killing.
When he and seven others were later arrested, the authorities found that several of the men had saved the video of the slaughter on their cellphones, alongside footage of soldiers being beheaded, according to French court records. Mr. Abballa was eventually convicted on a terrorism charge and spent more than two years in prison.
In hindsight, it is not hard to see how that first act of brutality foreshadowed what happened last week: Armed with a knife, Mr. Abballa attacked a couple in northern France in the name of the Islamic State and left them to bleed to death.But at the time of his arrest in 2011, investigators were not able to definitively show that he was a permanent threat to France. After his prison stint, he was placed under surveillance. Just months after the wiretaps stopped, he committed the double murder last week.
Across Europe and the United States, law enforcement officials are struggling to reckon with attackers like Mr. Abballa and Omar Mateen, whose shooting rampage this month at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., left 49 dead. They are men who clearly seemed to be building toward violent acts, and whose names had surfaced in terrorism investigations, but who avoided crossing legal lines that could tip off the authorities until it was too late.
With thousands of terrorism surveillance cases running at any given time, the European authorities say they are swamped and are in the difficult position of trying to head off attacks of which the only forewarning is often in the form of what someone thinks or what they are overheard saying. …
As the most junior member of the group, Mr. Abballa was not chosen to go, and that frustrated him. “I’m thirsty for blood, Allah is my witness,” he wrote in an email intercepted by the authorities. In another, he begged, “Please let me go, pls, pls, pls.”
When it appeared that he would not be sent to Pakistan, he turned his rage toward France, writing on Feb. 19, 2011, “With Allah’s will, we will find a way to raise the flag here.” A week letter, he wrote that his cell would “wipe away the infidels.” …
Considered the group’s least influential member, Mr. Abballa spent more than two years in prison and was released in 2013. He was kept under surveillance until the end of 2015. …
“We are in fact drowning in intelligence,” said Alain Bauer, a professor of criminology at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris.
He and others said there were structural problems, including the fact that France’s so-called S List, a database of people believed to have been radicalized, has over 10,000 names and is not ranked according to threat level.
Though most on the list never commit violence, others have now been responsible for gruesome headlines. Eight of the 10 men who staged the deadliest European terrorist attack in over a decade — the Paris killings on Nov. 13 — were on the S List and several had spent time behind bars, yet were able to sneak back into France and Belgium from Syria. Another suspect on the list, Amedy Coulibaly, had also been imprisoned on a terrorism conviction. Eight months after his electronic bracelet was removed by the French authorities, he killed a police officer and opened fire in a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015, leaving four more people dead in the Islamic State’s name. …
After Mr. Abballa killed the couple in Magnanville, France, last week, a deputy in Parliament, Éric Ciotti, introduced a bill creating the status of “administrative detention” for those representing a security threat. …
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said last week that he would consider the proposal, but that there would be “no Guantánamo” in France, the French newspaper Libération reported.Here’s another idea that’s neither throwing all suspects in concentration camps nor lying back and thinking of the E.U. like Monsieur Brisard suggests: pay Muslims to leave the country. The principle is already in place: France already offers a few thousand euros to immigrants to leave France for good.
Jean-Charles Brisard, the chairman of the French Center for the Analysis of Terrorism in Paris, called the idea “absurd” and said France could not jettison civil liberties.
He added that putting everyone on the S List under surveillance was impossible, because there are more than 10,000 names and fewer than 5,000 agents. It takes 20 agents per suspect for 24-hour surveillance, he said, meaning France could perform round-the-clock surveillance of only a small fraction of those suspected of being radicalized.
“My profound conviction is that unfortunately we need to get used to living with this new threat,” Mr. Brisard said. “It’s permanent, it’s diffuse and it can erupt at any moment.”
Call in each individual on the S List and tell him: We know you hate France, and, too be frank, we’re not all fond of you either, so let’s make a clean break of it. Here’s 20,000 euros to leave France forever. In return, you hand over your French passport and ID card and sign this paper saying that you will never come back to France and if you ever set foot in France or the E.U. again, you’ll got to prison for 20 years.
… In a long rant captured on the video, Mr. Abballa’s thoughts returned to the frustration he felt in 2011, when he begged to be allowed to go abroad to wage jihad.Better these guys make their hegira to somewhere outside of Europe than their Old Country cousins make their hegira to Europe.
“I address this also to the French infidel authorities. This is the result of your work. You closed the door to my Hijrah,” he said, using an Arabic term for a pilgrimage that for some Islamic State devotees has come to mean traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the group. “You closed the door toward the lands of the caliphate? Well, good then, we have opened the door of jihad onto your territory.”