Brussels attacks: More stringent passenger screening urged

‘If you don’t ramp up rail security, that’s going to drive terrorists to the rail network’


The bomb attacks in Brussels have reignited calls for a rollout of full-scale security measures across Europe’s rail network and airports to stop further terrorist outrages.

Armed police were yesterday deployed to airports, train stations and border crossings across Europe and the US.

From London to New York, security measures were stepped up at transport hubs, with police and the military carrying out extra checks. In the UK, the government said it had increased its border force presence at ports, with additional checks on some flights.

But the twin explosions at the departure hall of Brussels’s Zaventem airport and another at the Maelbeek metro station are likely to accelerate calls for a permanent strengthening in security.

Rail network

In a statement yesterday, however, ACI Europe, which represents airports in 45 European countries, said security measures such as checks on people and goods entering airport landside spaces could be disruptive and create new vulnerabilities.

“By displacing the gathering of passengers and airport visitors to spaces not designed for that purpose, such measures would essentially be moving the target rather than securing it,” it said.

Last August, a thwarted attack on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris laid bare the lack of security on Europe’s rail network. Moroccan-born Ayoub el-Khazzani was able to board at Brussels’s Midi station carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, 270 rounds of ammunition, a handgun and half a litre of petrol, before being disarmed by a group of American passengers.

While this resulted in European ministers backing tighter security measures on the region’s rail network, full-scale security checks – complete with barefooted passengers padding through metal detectors – have been rejected due to both the cost and inconvenience it would cause.

The challenge of policing Europe’s rail system is immense due to the huge amounts of people that travel on it every day. About 100 million people use London Waterloo train station annually, while French operator SNCF transports 10 million passengers each day.

Trial screening

“We shouldn’t be introducing any more security checks, instead we should be changing our approach to security,” said Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International magazine.

“We need to make security less predictable and focus on behavioural identifying measures, increasing the number of patrols by security personnel and canine units.”

– Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2016