A grim pattern in European attacks: Missed chances to pinpoint terrorism suspects beforehand

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In ancient capitals and bustling provincial cities across Europe, whenever the first sketchy reports begin surfacing of a terror attack — a truck strike, a stabbing rampage, a bombing — the investigators who spend their days and nights sifting through tens of thousands of potential security threats feel a sense of dread beyond their horror over the immediate event.

Will a perpetrator turn out to be someone well known to them? Someone whose extremist views or suspicious travels or damning personal associations had been documented but fell short of grounds for arrest or other restrictions?

Could the latest atrocity, they ask themselves, have been averted?

That agonizing question is being asked in London, where a vehicle-and-knife attack June 3 in the heart of the capital killed eight people and cast a shadow on a consequential British election.

In the London Bridge attacks, authorities had previously been told that two of the three assailants had shown extremist tendencies — echoing a pattern in other terrorist strikes.

But tracking terrorism suspects and heading off attacks — even when someone has come under suspicion — has become increasingly difficult.
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