International aviation travel has reached its zenith today. Airports are becoming more crowded and at times congested. This is a prime reason for airports to be selected for calculated terror attacks as they yield instant worldwide media publicity. Since proclaiming a worldwide Islamic Caliphate in 2014, ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to dominate a few regions of the world, and unleash premeditated paranoia.
Last week, Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey was the scene of an urban gun battle. It is the third busiest airport in Europe. In 2001, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration of the (USA) recognized Ataturk airport as the safest travel hub in the Middle East and Balkans.
The three young gunmen had come in a Taxi, managing to somehow evade the vehicle entry check. Taking a common taxi was a smart move as security guards often become suspicious of a tinted glass vehicle. Their baggy clothing made it easy to conceal the deadly suicide vests. The radicalized gunmen came from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The trio managed to come to the first checkpoint of the building. When subject to the routine X-ray scan, they realized that they were made and opened fire into the crowd. A brave cop on duty grappled with one gunman, until the gunman detonated his suicide vest. Meanwhile, other security staff opened fire on the two remaining gunmen, of whom one fell down but then exploded himself. At this point, 44 bystanders were dead and 240 injured. The choice of weapon indicates that the gunmen desired to kill as many as possible, while the volley of bullets tends to create mass panic.
The AK 47 is an assault rifle when fired in fully automatic mode sends an outburst of 100 rounds per minute. Other powerful rifles like the M16, AR 15 and streamlined Uzi can unleash 100 to 600 rounds per minute. A suicide vest is an improvised explosive device. Military history shows that it was Chinese soldiers who strapped on grenades and detonated same on Japanese troops during 1937 and 1945. It is strange how this old military strategy became a subversive device with time.
Airport security worldwide faces a new challenge. Generally, the inside of the airports are secured with armed guards and CCTV. The outer perimetre will now have to be extended, perhaps with two perimeter defenses leading to the main terminals. A good example of Terminal structural security is our own Katunayake Airport where the terminal approach walkways are quite long, and can restrain an attack of this nature at the first security check, giving passengers and staff inside the terminal time to flee.
ISIS strategies continue to evolve as they pick global targets. Former Head of Security at Heathrow Airport, Norman Shanks is convinced that crowded airports will attract terrorists. He reckons that advanced facial recognition systems will help identify suspects via CCTV. Body checks of airport staff and flight crews must be stringent in order to dispel doubts after an incident.
Examining baggage is very stressful for security staff as passengers dislike standing in long lines and become verbally abusive. In foreign nations some passengers claim that body checks can be a subtle form of sexual harassment by undisciplined staff. Security must also cover the threat of poisonous gas which can be fed via ventilation systems. Hence terminal ventilation systems must meet tough security compliance and supervised maintenance.
The passengers must be patient as they check in. Air cargo needs to be double checked prior to loading. Cyber attacks can cripple the all important control tower, plunging flight operations into chaos, especially for airborne aircraft. Sudden unknown disturbance to electricity supply is also a warning of an impending attack, especially at night time. Some nations are also facing the risk of a ballistic attack – a missile fired at planes that are landing or taking off with maximum passenger loads. In a confrontation with gunmen Police and Military also come under pressure as their retaliatory gunfire mustn’t endanger the safety of civilians.
Today, airport emergency response must be upgraded to detect and safely neutralize CBRNE- (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Enhanced Conventional Weapons) while rapidly evacuating passengers. Every air traveler has a responsibility to be alert, if you suspect anything report it at once.
British philosopher Jonathan Glover has noted the human species is fascinated with inflicting brutality on itself. This analysis has now been endorsed by these violent attacks. Sri Lanka and India are also said to be in the list of nations that ISIS desires to invade as stated by Andrew Hosken of the BBC. Given this somewhat bizarre warning it is paramount that our law enforcement and aviation security remain alert and ready to mitigate such future threats to aviation in Sri Lanka.