Dutch government under pressure over use of troops at Schiphol

Serious disruption after army is deployed for extra security following terror alert

A soldier assists military policemen to carry out extra patrols around Schiphol Airport. Photograph: Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty Images

A soldier assists military policemen to carry out extra patrols around Schiphol Airport. Photograph: Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Dutch government has been warned that the continuing use of soldiers to beef up security at Schiphol airport – which handles 60 million passengers a year – is “unacceptable”, despite the fact that the troops were deployed earlier this month in response to a terror warning.

Security at the airport is provided by 1,800 military police, but the army was deployed in early August when the intelligence services said they had received “a signal” about a terrorist threat requiring immediate precautions both inside and outside the airport terminal.

After attacks by Islamist radicals in France, Belgium and Germany, the Dutch authorities acknowledge that the Netherlands is a target because it supports US-led military operations against Islamic State, also known as Isis, in the Middle East.

Security sources indicated that the “signal” focused on a Brussels-style attack using “small calibre guns”, but that appears to have been the extent of the intelligence.

Stop-and-search

As a result, the airport authorities gave the go-ahead – for the first time – for random armed stop-and-search patrols in the concourse and surrounds, warning that passengers would have to be patient as the holiday season hit its peak.

For the past fortnight, the disruption has been considerable. Vehicle checks have caused long tailbacks on to the surrounding motorways. Travellers have complained about missing flights, and some have been leaving their cars at the perimeter and walking to the terminal.

Last Friday was the airport’s busiest day of the year, when it processed 222,261 passengers over 24 hours – and many of those delayed wanted to know why there had been no indication of how long the new measures will continue.

Now, despite the summer recess, Dutch opposition politicians are asking prime minister Mark Rutte and his Liberal-Labour coalition government the same question.

As a result of public pressure, four of the main parties, the Christian Democrats, centre-left D66, the Socialists, and Geert Wilders’s right-wing Freedom Party, have formed an ad hoc alliance to tell the government that the continuing use of the army is “unacceptable”.

“Using the army sounds like a solution, but in fact it’s not a real solution”, said D66 leader Alexander Pechtold.

“Soldiers are not trained for this type of work. It’s bad for the army, bad for the military police – in fact, bad for everyone because the security of Schiphol is the priority. We need a proper structural solution.”

There are tensions too between the government and the union representing the military police – which has described the deployment of troops as “a cobbled-together solution”.

In addition to the usual Schiphol airport complement of 1,800, the government has confirmed that an additional 400 military police are being trained – but they’re unlikely to be available for duty until the end of the year and the Christmas rush.

Among the soldiers so far deployed have been members of the elite 11th Air Assault Brigade.