French police outside the Notre Dame, Paris

French police outside the Notre Dame, Paris

The government is to deploy “at least two” members of France’s elite paramilitary special forces, the GIGN, on each train to monitor security and thwart potential terrorist threats, Mr Réty told the AFP news agency. 

The counter-terror operation, which was launched on Thursday to coincide with the upsurge in traffic for the summer break, has been codenamed “Train Marshals,” he added. 

“[The train marshals] will be travelling every single day, and board passenger trains operating nationwide. They will change their travel itinerary depending on the terror threat level. Our objective is to be efficient and reassure the population,” Me Réty continued. 

The “discreet” counter-terrorism officers will attempt to blend into the train station crowd, sit with other passengers and be ready to spring into action if there’s an attack aboard a train. 

They will only step in in the event of a terrorist attack to protect their cover.

France’s national gendarmerie commander Colonel Ghislain Réty

Armed and equipped with radios, they will “only step in in the event of a terrorist attack to protect their cover,” Mr Réty said, adding that the police officers have been trained to shoot quickly and accurately. 

The operation was inspired by American air marshals – undercover armed guards who travel on board US commercial flights to counter hijacking and other hostile acts. 

They were first introduced in the 1960s by then President John F. Kennedy, and the programme received a major boost in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks. 

“The failed Thalys train attack was the motivating factor” for the train marshal security operation, Mr Réty added, referring to the thwarted Islamic State (ISIS) attack on a high-speed train in France two summers ago. 

On August 21, 2015, Ayoub El Khazzani, a machine gun-toting radical Islamist, wounded two people on a Paris-Amsterdam train before being overpowered by passengers. 

The suspect, who is still awaiting trial, told French judges in December 2016 that he had travelled from Syria to Belgium with ISIS jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the suspected masterminds of the Paris November 2015 attacks. 

Some 246 people have been killed in France since January 2015 in attacks by assailants who pledged allegiance to, or were inspired by, ISIS.

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