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France

Armed patrols on French trains

media Armed SNCF security agents Armed French security agents or 'train marshals' working for the national rail operator SNCF will patrol French trains in heightened anti-terrorism measures. Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP

In the wake of the Berlin terrorist attack and revelations that the Tunisian suspect probably travelled from France to Italy by train, the French national rail company SNCF has announced armed security agents on French trains.

Between the deadly Berlin Christmas market attack on Monday December 19 and the suspect’s death in Milan on Friday, Anis Amri managed to travel hundreds of kilometres across Europe finishing most likely with a TGV ride from France to Italy.

Escape by train

The SNCF has confirmed in French media reports that the presumed author of Berlin's truck terrorism assault - shot dead in Milan on Friday - had a TGV ticket in his pocket, for a journey from Chambéry in southeast France to Turin, Italy.

This news has thrown French train security into question, and the SNCF responded late Friday by announcing it would bolster safety measures by deploying its security agents, both armed and plain clothes, to patrol trains as well as stations.

Train marshals aboard 

The deployment of the “train marshals” is part of a decree on anti-terrorist measures enacted in September, the national rail operator said.

After Amri’s slaying in a shootout with Italian police in the suburbs of Milan at 3am Friday, there were immediate reports that a TGV ticket had been found in his backpack.

"This is not very surprising, because when you want to travel in Europe without being noticed, it is better to be in order,” said SNCF director, Guillaume Pépy, quoted in Le Monde.

“A terrorist is rarely someone who is a fraudster,” he added.

Speaking on French radio yesterday, Guillaume Pépy said the SNCF was keen to reassure travellers about security, given Amri presumably travelled across the Alps armed, and that a record number of voyagers are expected on French trains in the coming days.

The first patrols started circulating on-board trains on Friday he said.

"The train marshals came into force today and they have been approved by the prefectures, that is to say that you have SNCF surveillance workers who are in civilian clothes, armed, on trains," he said.

Train security in spotlight

Safety in trains has become a major issue with the spate of terrorist attacks in France and neighbouring European countries over the past two years.

In August 2015, a man opened fire with a Kalashnikov on passengers traveling on a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris. Two people were injured.

Now after the Berlin attack and Amri’s escape by train, serious questions are being raised about the safety of train travel in France and general border security in Europe.

And Christmas security?

In all, over 90,000 police and soldiers are being mobilised this weekend across France while it’s the parishioners who are reportedly assuring security at churches.

Following the murder of a French priest in a Catholic church in Normandy in July, churches are felt to be under particular threat over Christmas.

According to the review L’Express, interior minister, Bruno Le Roux, asked the local administrators or prefects to show "exceptional vigilance" on "all places of a religious character", especially at Christmas gatherings and services on December 24 and 25.
 

 

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