WATCH: Could the Charlie Hebdo Attack Have Been Prevented?

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October 18, 2016
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

Emergency responders rush a victim for treatment in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack on Jan. 7., 2015.

On January 7, 2015, two masked gunmen stormed the office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and shot 12 people dead.

For Louis Caprioli, a former French domestic intelligence counterterror chief, news of the attack was devastating — even more so once he learned that the men behind the masks were brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi.

That’s because the Kouachi brothers had long been on the radar of intelligence officials in France. In fact, Cherif had once been sentenced to three years in prison for recruiting fighters to go to Iraq and attempting to join Al Qaeda.

But in June of 2014, French spy chiefs had made a fateful decision to stop monitoring the brothers who would go on to commit the Charlie Hebdo attack, instead shifting their surveillance resources to the growing threat from ISIS.

“When an attack happens and you had no prior intelligence, that’s one thing,” Caprioli tells FRONTLINE and ProPublica in the new investigation, Terror in Europe, which premieres tonight on PBS. “But when you find out that you could have prevented it, that is a tragedy.”

The story of the Kouachi brothers is just one of multiple missed opportunities that’s explored in Terror in Europe, ProPublica reporter Sebastian Rotella’s revealing look at Europe’s ongoing attempts to combat the terrorism threat.

Drawing on remarkably candid interviews with top European counterterror officials like Caprioli, the investigation tells the inside story of the intelligence missteps and systemic breakdowns in the run-up to the Charlie Hebdo, Paris and Brussels attacks — and why Europe remains so vulnerable today.

“The institutional flaws in the European system are multiple,” Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who was a top French anti-terror judge for two decades, tells FRONTLINE and ProPublica. “I don’t know what we are waiting for.”

Terror in Europe premieres tonight at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on PBS stations (check your local listings) and online at pbs.org/frontline. And for more, read Sebastian Rotella’s long form story about How Europe left itself open to terrorism here.

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