Christmas under siege

The holiday markets across Europe have come to resemble fortifications but people are not much safer for that

Photo: EPA Concrete barriers are placed in front of the Christmas market at the Gaensemarkt square in Hamburg, 3 December.

All signs point to us having yet another Christmas period shadowed by fear and increased security measures. This has become a tradition for Germany. Since the Berlin Christmas market terrorist attack of 2016, in which a truck was deliberately driven into a crowd, killing 12 people, these places have been enclosed by solid concrete blocks. Such fortifications are as much a feature of the landscape as Christmas decorations this time of the year.

They are strong enough to stop a tank but not an attacker armed with a submachine gun or one hiding hand-made bombs under the coat. And the latest tragedy, this time in Strasbourg, proved as much. Late on 11 December a man opened fire against the milling crowd near the Christmas market in the otherwise beautiful and quiet French town. The result: three killed and thirteen injured, including six in critical condition. These are all innocent victims, collateral damage.

In the aftermath of this shooting, France upgraded the security threat level and tightened security measures for Christmas markets. Other European countries followed suit. Plainclothes agents and heavily-armed police officers have been called on duty to patrol areas where large crowds gather. Barriers guard the entrances to some of the markets now. What's next, installing gun detectors and introducing passport checks? And would these measures be enough to prevent another attack? The answer is no. All of this does not solve the problem, and everyone knows it. Crime is everywhere and there are only two ways of combating it effectively - prevention and severe punishment for perpetrators. As it turns out, however, both elements were completely disregarded when it comes to the Strasbourg shooter.

It seems to me that he was labelled prematurely as Islamic terrorist. He was born in France to the family of migrants from northern Africa. He obviously failed to integrate into society, as is the case with many of those who were, figuratively, invited to the table and then overturned it since they did not like the dishes on the menu. He was allegedly heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), which would suggest he had been radicalised. Enough of this nonsense! This man believes neither in Allah nor in afterlife. He is a dangerous criminal, a recidivist at that, with as many as 27 convictions at the age of 29. He operated on the territory of three European countries and even did some prison time. In 2016 he was deemed a threat to national security. And yet, he was at large and even got himself a weapon. What else could authorities be waiting for in order to exact a proper punishment? Well, he surely did more - he killed people. Islamists have no reason to rejoice, though. The man purported to be in their ranks is not their hero and will not be a martyr because one of his victims is actually a Muslim.

What's more, following the terrorist attack, the perpetrator was involved in two, and according to some sources even three shootouts with the law enforcement, before fleeing with a taxi. I am sorry, but something does not add up here. In such situations police officers rarely hesitate to shoot on sight. If anything, they normally have itchy trigger fingers and at times even shoot down the wrong person. But they rarely miss their target.

Ultimately, after a massive search operation the shooter was found and shot dead. The people in the Strasbourg neighbourhood where the scene took place gave the police officers a round of applause. The survivors are counting their blessings. But will they go to the town square and celebrate the holidays without fear? And how merry could a Christmas under siege be?

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