‘EU authorities can’t control all radical groups’

Several thousand people gather to pay tribute to the victims following a shooting by gunmen at the offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo during a demonstration in Nantes January 10, 2015.(Reuters / Stephane Mahe)
Border control is not going to solve the problem of terrorist attacks because it’s impossible for military services to control all radicals including those who are EU citizens, Peter Kirkham, former chief of Metropolitan police, told RT.

RT:As a former chief of the Met Police, how would you asses the law enforcement response to the violence in France?

Peter Kirkham: I should point out that the Former chief inspector is a fairly lowly rank. I wasn’t a chief of police so I will be speaking from that perspective. In terms of what has happened over the last few days, I think, probably the outcome was good as it could be bearing in minds the nature of the atrocity that started at Charlie Hebdo the other morning. These things, first of all, need very urgent action to establish who the people are and then to establish where they are. That seems to have been done with remarkable speed maybe because they were known to some extent already, that there was already some intelligence in the system that helped them to move that arm.

There was also quite a lot of proactivity around arresting associates, searching addresses and things like that which kept the pressure on. Perhaps a little looking away the suspects had gone in the direction of the area that they hailed from. Therefore, they found massive police activity around them as opposed to going anywhere else. But once that happened and it became plain !that once they were knowing precisely where they were, it seemed likely they were in or around that region and that region was rapidly flooded with huge numbers of police.

I think 88,000 police and military flooded into that area, the reports were yesterday. So, an incredible number of police and military sufficient to secure an area and then to start systematically working your way through it, then I suspected there was going to be now other likely outcome other than sooner or later they would come to light, they would break the cover as it has been described today and that it would probably only end one way and that is the way it ended. If you’ve got people that are determined to go out in a blaze of glory then that is what they managed to achieve usually.

RT:What impact do you think the last few days will have? Will French society unite or will the Muslim community become isolated?

PK: I’m not particularly aware of the dynamics within France but in more general terms these sort of things do tend to lead to all sorts of, I was going to say, ripples in a pond, more like small waves in the pond with something as dramatic and as barbaric as this. There will be all sorts of groups seeking to make capital out of this for their own causes. We’ve already heard comment from the National Party in France [that] there will be people that will be trying to attack the arguments about immigration, the arguments about religion, the arguments about the secular state in France, the arguments about the things like the banning the valiant public space, and all the other things that we’ve seen France doing in this sort of sphere. It is bound to have a very significant impact and very significant number of ways throughout French society. And there will also be impacts across the world. Lots of other places it could just as easily have happened, in any country that has significant Muslim population, whether there is a small minority, but still significant numbers, small minority, who are radicalized, small number who go back and to the likes of Yemen and Syria and Afghanistan and who come back with this feeling of wanting to take on the western world. The repercussions are very significant across the western world.

Reuters / Philippe Laurenson

RT:There are now concerns about the future. Should more have been done, should have been these terrorists monitored?

PK: There will undoubtedly be an inquiry to establish exactly what the different authorities knew of these people. But there is a world of difference between saying they were known to the police or even that they were known for terrorist related activity and being in a position to say that they were likely to do something like this.

Even if you know somebody is likely to launch an attack the practicalities of what you can do within the law to monitor them is an entirely different matter. Surveillance is hugely, costly, and not guaranteed at all. It is easy enough for people to slip away from surveillance. There are limits to the amounts of the restrictions that can be put on somebody’s movement if they are not convicted or not currently serving a sentence. So even if they are not convicted when that sentence comes to an end then there is a limit to how much future control can be put over their lives. The threat assessment is based on intelligence about what they are up to: who are they speaking to, what are they planning. Obviously if that was known or even hinted at, that this sort of attack was what they were planning then there would have been intervention.

I suspect what would be found is that they were warned of probably thousands if not tens of thousands of individuals that were on the radar in terms of terrorist related connections and activity and that is just totally impracticable to watch all of those people all of the time. It looks very easy. Why wouldn’t these people be watched? But what you have to ask how many other people were in exactly the same or even more worrying situations and could’ve been be or should’ve been watched as well. It is just not possible to do that unfortunately.

A man places a rose as people continue to pay tribute in front of the offices of the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris January 10, 2015.(Reuters / Pascal Rossignol)

RT:The British intelligence officials warned on more attacks and said there is a real concern. Do you think that Europe should really be preparing for that? How does it prepare for that?

PK: I think every country has been aware of that for some time. Certainly the police and the security services in every country would have been aware of that fact for some time. That is that IRA [Irish Republican Army] said to Margaret Thatcher: “We only have to be lucky once - you have to be lucky all the time.”

You have got this situation where even with the might of the states and all the resources available to them - and I should point out that the resources available to the states in the UK have been significantly cut by this government over the last 5 years on the back of austerity - there are significantly less police and significantly less specialist resources in all the police and security services than it was 5 years ago. But even with all the might of the state there is a limit of what you can do. And you cannot know everything, and you cannot be everywhere, and you cannot prevent everything.

The point that was mentioned about two brothers in France being not immigrants themselves but French citizens born of immigrant parents. That is an extremely worrying thing as well because border control is not going to solve that problem out for you. Those people if they are radicalized are within your country’s borders already. Thinking back to 7/7 [the 7 July 2005 London bombings] the two bombers in the UK were UK citizens of origins beyond Britain.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.