Radical Islam isn’t going away any time soon. Neither is Islamist terrorism. So what are Western countries to do in this scary world in the meantime?
Let’s start with improving security – especially at airports and train stations – and increasing co-ordination among intelligence gatherers.
In the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, we’re learning that European authorities downplayed, ignored or failed to report signs that ISIS was aggressively recruiting foreigners and preparing for international terrorism.
In one of her excellent articles after the Brussels attacks, Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times wrote about a 23-year-old French citizen named Ibrahim Boudina. http://tinyurl.com/jz478en
On his way back to France from Syria in January 2014, Greek police caught Boudina with 1,500 euros and a document called, “How to Make Artisanal Bombs in the Name of Allah.”
Because there was no warrant for his arrest in Europe, however, the Greek authorities released him. He was arrested by French police five weeks later, along with 600 grams of the peroxide explosive TATP.
It took two more years for French authorities to learn that Boudina may have been the first European citizen to travel to Syria with the specific aim of joining ISIS. But, according to Callimachi, those details were buried in French paperwork.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course.
But the details emerging from the Brussels attacks should wake up Western countries to the need to share intelligence, as well as best practices for what information, clues and paper trails they should be seeking.
And then there’s airport security. If you’ve ever flown out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, you know that the security screening and behaviour profiling actually start a couple of km from the terminal, when your car or taxi enters the checkpoint at the entrance to the airport grounds.
Armed guards look at you and your vehicle and sometimes ask a few questions. Some cars are pulled aside and searched.
Once inside the terminal, you can’t go anywhere near the check-in counter until you’ve been interviewed by a security agent who asks at least a dozen questions about you, your trip and what’s in your luggage.
These agents – many of whom look barely old enough to drive – have been trained to ask variations of the same questions to find inconsistencies. They also look for physical tics, hesitations or other physical cues that indicate deception.
El Al has similar screening for its departures anywhere it flies.
Is there racial profiling? Undoubtedly. But it’s not just targeting Arabs.
As a WASP by birth with the colouring to match, I’ve had more than my fair share of interrogations during at least 60 departures from Ben-Gurion.
My profile – Jew by choice, married woman travelling without her husband for short trips several times a year – often sets off alarm bells. Ironically, it was even worse when I started to speak good Hebrew. Why would someone start to learn Hebrew at age 47?
I was once pulled aside for more than an hour while my computer mouse was sent to a separate building for further security screening.
But I always remind myself that this kind of screening averted a terrorist attack in 1986, when El Al security agents detained a pregnant Irish woman travelling from London to Tel Aviv with an unusually heavy bag. It turned out she was unknowingly carrying explosives planted by her Jordanian fiancé.
Of course, Israel spends a disproportionate amount of its national budget on security of every kind. Compulsory military or national service also provides training and workers for these profiling positions.
It might be unrealistic to expect European and North American airports to replicate such extensive screening practices. But they should certainly be studying and adapting elements of Israel’s model, especially the behaviour profiling.
It has also been reported that one of the Brussels suicide bombers had worked at the airport until 2012, and knew the layout like the back of his hand.
So airport security really has to start with the hiring process.
And why do we not have tighter security at railway stations? I love the fact that I can arrive 15 minutes before my train and board immediately. But, as the Brussels attacks proved, trains and subways are also potential terrorist targets.
It’s a sign of our times that the best way ordinary citizens can fight Islamist terror is to be delayed, inconvenienced and profiled even more than we have been since 9/11.
But the enemy is ruthless, and the attacks are getting closer to home. If better security can make a difference, I’ll be first in line.