'So many potential terrorists being tracked, hard to track them all'

French investigating police check for clues on the train platform in Arras, France, August 21, 2015 © Pascal Rossignol
It is becoming increasingly difficult for European authorities to track individuals suspected of potential terrorist activities given the number of people now on the radar, Brian Levin, director of the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism, told RT.

A 26 year-old Moroccan man armed with a Kalashninov rifle opened fire on a Thalys high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris on Friday. The attacker was apprehended by soldiers traveling on the same train, according to local media.

READ MORE: 'AK47-armed' man opens fire on Amsterdam to Paris train, gets overpowered by passengers

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel discribed the incident as a "terrorist attack," but the suspect claimed that he intended to carry out a robbery and was not a terrorist, BFM reported on Saturday.

Now officials are attempting to understand how the man was able to acquire such a weapon and bring it onto mass transport.

RT:The gunman was reportedly heavily armed - he was carrying a Kalashnikov and a handgun and he even got on board in Brussels... How could he have managed that?

Brian Levin: Well they do not check in Europe on passengers that are boarding trains. It would just take a lot of resources. So he had apparently secreted these weapons as he got on the train in Belgium.

RT:Reports claim the man is known to intelligence services. Do you think it was an act of terrorism?

BL: Well look the fact that he apparently slipped through a terror watch list would lead us to indicate that at least this is a terroristic act and indeed some of the politicians in Europe, from Belgium, have said that already. Although what we tend to do is have a terrorism response to events like this and then we can always say whether it was something else later. It is always important to treat these kind of suspected terrorist attacks as terrorist attacks, until proven otherwise. And again Morocco over the last few years has had a spate of bombings there. And they have Islamic groups like GICM. But this initially appears to be a lone wolf. We will have to see what kind of assistance he has had, if any.

RT:It's extremely lucky that military personnel were on board. What would the consequences have been if not?

BL: An excellent point, and lets look at what we have seen. With a lot of these lone wolf jihadist, and that appears to be a case of that, we see a lot of active-shooters situations. We have seen this here in the US in Texas. We have seen it in Paris. And the thing is when you have an active shooter is to take them down as quickly as possible, particularly if they are a loner. Because if you have someone who is reloading - as apparently this 26-year old named Slimane Hamzi was doing – he was actually tackled while he was reloading the magazine – we don’t know how many rounds he had in that magazine. Twenty or thirty? And when a train is moving that is a captive audience of potential victims... So that is the loss of life that was prevented from taking place because of these courageous acts, because of these apparent American Marines on the train.

RT: What does this say about how secure the EU is? They're currently trying to fence out migrants and asylum seekers - yet someone armed with a gun is traveling freely on a train?

BL: Yes, and again France has a large North African population where folks can kind of blend in. The majority of the people in the EU who are from the Maghreb who are from N.Africa and the Middle East are not involved with terrorism, but the fact of the matter is there’re so many people - and I’ve spoken to the law enforcement from the EU - there’re so many people that are being tracked it is hard to keep track of every single one of them.

We saw that with the Charlie Hebdo attacks where some of those folks were actually imprisoned and then monitored, and then the monitoring ceased. And I think what we have to do and that includes all the countries in that region is to make a better effort. Step up this effort, particularly with respect to the prevalence of these active shooters who act either alone or in duos, and sometime again, we may see bigger groups. It is easier for someone who is a loner to slip in and out because there are not as many people involved in the conspiracy to trip it up. Again there might be a conspiracy here, but as far as the active shooters apparently there was only one and he was neutralized by the Marines, and he has been injured and is being treated as well.

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