Katie Pavlich: Terror on the train: It can happen here

Katie Pavlich: Terror on the train: It can happen here
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Late last week, news broke about a thwarted terror attack in Europe in which the suspect, Ayoub El-Khazzani, walked onto a train bound for Paris and opened fire with an AK-47.

Khazzani was on multiple terror watch lists; at least four intelligence agencies and a number of law enforcement authorities around the world knew who he was and that he was a serious threat. According to the Daily Mail, Khazzani fought in Syria with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) before making his way back to Europe. Yet it was three Americans, two of whom serve in the U.S. military, who took him down: National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone and American college student Anthony Sadler.

Stone was the first to rush the attacker, getting severely injured in the process. Most importantly, they stopped him before anyone was killed.

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“I turned around and saw that he had what looked like an AK-47 and it looked like it was jammed or that it wasn’t working and he was trying to charge the weapon. Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go,’” Stone explained during a press conference.

“And I ran down, tackled him, we hit the ground. Alek came up and grabbed the gun out of his hand while I put him in a chokehold. It seemed like he just kept pulling more weapons left and right. He pulled out a handgun, Alek took that. He took out a box cutter, started jabbing at me with that, we let go. All three of us started punching him while he was in the middle of us and then I was able to grab him again and took him unconscious while Alek was hitting him in the head with the pistol or rifle.” 

The three were awarded France’s highest civilian honor for their bravery. 

“We are giving you the highest distinction of the country to show you how much we appreciate what you did. So this Legion d’Honneur is representative of your courage and also your incredible act of humanity to save those also on the train,” French President François Hollande said during the award ceremony on Monday.

“I saw the gunmen and I think he had five Kalashnikov magazines so he could recharge. His rifle had a short handle so it was more compact and he also had a handgun and knives,” an Arras railroad station guard told The Telegraph. “It could have been carnage if not for the Americans.”

The incident has many here at home asking the question, “Could a terror attack like that happen on our trains?”

The answer: Absolutely.

Since moving to Washington, D.C., years ago, I’ve become what is known as a Northeast Corridor Acela passenger. I often travel to New York City for work, and the train goes straight to Penn Station in the heart of Manhattan. It’s convenient, but the majority of the time I don’t feel safe. I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

Three years ago I was on the Acela headed north, on Sept. 11, when the train stopped between D.C. and Baltimore. The Amtrak engineer came over the loudspeaker to explain that there were wires down in front of the train on the tracks and wires down behind us, and that we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. “A while” turned into 10 hours of sitting on the tracks, with no option of getting off.

While we were waiting — and as I often do when there’s a delay — I thought about how we were helpless, defenseless, sitting ducks. We couldn’t get off the train, the train couldn’t move and it would be easy for someone on the train to carry out an attack or for someone outside of the train to make their way aboard.

I often think about how the Acela, and other Amtrak trains, makes dozens of stops at small stations, not just in the Northeast but around the country. Tickets aren’t always checked at the station door, but instead once someone is on the train. It’s easy to hop on and off, making Amtrak trains easy targets for terrorists wanting to do mass harm.

The good news is, Amtrak allows firearms onboard — but only in checked luggage.

“All firearms (rifles, shotguns, handguns, starter pistols) must be unloaded and in an approved, locked hard-sided container,” Amtrak policy states.

That policy won’t stop a terrorist, but it does render innocent passengers defenseless. Amtrak police are armed, but are rarely onboard trains for the entirety of a journey. Amtrak engineers and workers are unarmed.

I suggest Congress and Amtrak officials take a serious look at the security of their trains and consider what civilians can do for themselves, and others, in order to remain vigilant. In the meantime, I’ll hope to be riding with Americans willing and able to take down a violent assailant.

An attack can happen anywhere, at any time. It’s up to us to be prepared for it.

 

Pavlich is editor for Townhall.com and a Fox News contributor.