The horrific November 13 terrorist onslaught that left 129 Parisians dead could have been even worse were it not for the intervention of a Muslim private security officer at the Stade de France who detected something suspicious during a pat-down search. Shortly after being turned away from the entrance, the man detonated an explosive vest.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the security officer – who identified himself only as Zouheir – explained that he was stationed next to the players’ tunnel when the terrorist attempted to enter the stadium about fifteen minutes before the beginning of an exhibition match between France and Germany. Roughly three minutes later, a second suicide bombing took place outside the stadium. A third terrorist set off his vest at a nearby McDonald’s. It is believed that one innocent bystander was killed as a direct result of the suicide bombings – but the results would have been far worse if the bombers had succeeded in penetrating the stadium.
By denying access to the first terror bomber, Zouheir and his colleagues appear to have disrupted a plot to stage coordinated explosions in the crowded stadium. The apparent objective was to provoke a potentially deadly stampede by spectator. Although the loud explosions did create confusion within the 80,000-seat arena, the game continued without interruption, even after President Hollande was spirited away from his VIP box.
Fans at European soccer matches frequently detonate firecrackers, so the explosions didn’t sound unusual to most of those who attended the game. Things would have been much different if the spectators had actually witnessed the suicide bombings – and the bombers, acting on the well-known terrorist principle that “the action is in the reaction,” were relying on panic to do most of their work for them.
“I’m not surprised the person was stopped – it was pretty tight security,” observed Seiriol Hughes of North Wales, who was at the game as part of a trip celebrating his father’s birthday. “We were frisked before going to the game and there was a bag check,” Hughes told the Daily Mirror. “It was very thorough.”
Unlike government-imposed mass surveillance and security checkpoints, private security protocols of the type described by Hughes are entirely avoidable, since they are only required as a condition of participating in a private function. The vigilance demonstrated by Zouheir and his fellow private security officers probably saved countless lives. The terrorist assault on the Bataclan Theater offered a tragic contrast. At least 129 people were killed and 349 wounded – 96 of them critically – in a gun and grenade attack during a concert by The Eagles of Death Metal. Police arrived on the scene but took roughly two hours to stage a counter-attack as the terrorists – armed with AK-47s and hand grenades – killed unarmed victims at leisure.
Although private security officers are frequently maligned as “mall cops” or “cop wanna-bes,” they are more plentiful than government-employed police – by one estimate, they outnumber cops by at least three-to-one – and they are on the receiving end of criminal violence much more frequently than their public sector counterparts.
Rick McCann, founder and CEO of Private Officer International, reports that during the past fifteen years, roughly 700 American police officers died while on duty – most of them from causes other than homicide (such as car accidents, self-inflicted injuries, or heart attacks). During the same period, he estimates, at least 1863 private security officers were killed while faithfully carrying out a contractual duty to protect clients from criminal violence.
“It is true that an on-duty police officer dies, on average, every 53 hours in this country,” McCann observes. “Most of those deaths happen as a result of traffic accidents, or issues arising from training and physical conditioning.” For private security operatives, he continues, more than eighty percent of on-duty fatalities come as “a result of traumatic, confrontational injury” during an encounter with people bent on doing harm to the innocent.
Numerous federal court rulings have made it clear that police agencies have no legally enforceable duty to protect any specific citizen from suffering harm at the hands of criminals. As government-imposed monopolies, police departments go out of “business” only on the rarest of occasions, irrespective of their performance. Private security agencies, by way of contrast, must compete for clients and will quickly disappear from the marketplace if they fail to perform their advertised, contractual function. Furthermore, private security officers who injure or kill innocent people are not protected by the “qualified immunity” police officers enjoy.
While the legal environment for French private security officers (and the institutions employing them) differs from that here in the United States, they carry out the same mission on very similar terms to their American counterparts, and the heroic professionalism displayed by Zouheir and his colleagues brings credit to their industry.