Schiphol extends security measures over attack intelligence

One of Europe’s largest airline hubs introduce armed stop-and-search patrols

Dutch police officers search a car boot on the high way to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Photograph: Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty Images

Dutch police officers search a car boot on the high way to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Photograph: Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty Images

 

Schiphol airport in the Netherlands – one of Europe’s largest airline hubs, handling almost 60 million passengers a year – has introduced armed stop-and-search patrols in response to a warning it could be facing a terrorist attack.

The Amsterdam airport took the unusual step of publicly announcing the new random checks, which have already been put into effect, after a meeting with the national counter-terrorism co-ordinator, the police and emergency services.

The Schiphol authorities said they had been notified last Friday by the Dutch intelligence service of a “signal about a terrorist threat” – prompting them to put the new measures in place immediately both inside and outside the airport terminal.

Security sources suggest the warning focused on an attack using “small calibre guns”, though this has not been officially confirmed.

A brief statement from the airport said only that it was doing its utmost to deal with the potential risk to passengers in a responsible manner – while allowing flights and other services to operate as normally as possible.

Tourist season

Coming at the height of the tourist season, the checks have already been causing considerable delays, particularly on approach roads to the airport. The effect has been compounded by the fact that train services to Schiphol have been reduced as a result of annual rail maintenance.

On Wednesday, the A4 motorway, running south from Amsterdam to The Hague, was closed for more than two hours while armed police surrounded an airport bus and arrested a 41-year-old man said to have made comments about blowing up the coach. He was later released without charge.

Dutch media have been placing the heightened precautions in the context of the attacks on Ataturk airport in Istanbul in June in which 41 people were killed, and on Zaventem airport and Maalbeek metro station in Brussels in March in which 35 people died.

The terrorism threat in the Netherlands currently stands at “substantial”, the second-highest level – which means the chance of an attack is “real” – with no indication of a change.

Terrorism expert Marco Zannoni, director of the Institute for Security and Crisis Management in Rotterdam, said that although it was right that the new measures at Schiphol had been made public, there should have been more information.

“The situation at Schiphol fits with the lengthening list of threats and attacks in western Europe, aimed at airports, railway stations and shopping centres.

“Everything points to a heightened general threat. But I believe people need to have a little more explanation.”

The strategic importance of Schiphol was underlined last October when Wilma van Dijk, who had been deputy national counterterrorism co-ordinator for the Netherlands, was named director of security at the airport.