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Istanbul Attacks - Another Lesson to be Learned

29 June 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970

In light of the dreadful attack on Instanbul's Ataturk airport, SERIFM's Jeff Little says we need to stop with the referendum blues and party squabbling and start thinking about investing in border-point

Transport terminals have always been and will always remain a soft target for terror attacks.  Examples include the Madrid train bombings in 2004 which killed 191 people, the 7/7 attacks on London’s underground and more recently the strike on Brussels airport on March 22 this year.

Transport hubs offer densely packed targets in an age where extremists seek to measure success by generating mass casualties.  Passengers are inevitably from all around the World and thus international coverage is certain from the media. 

At the end of the day, if a determined terrorist wants to attack such a target in a democratic, open society, then he or she will succeed if they have avoided the attention and interdiction of the intelligence services.

There are stark facts now to be faced.  Security services do not have the resources to track and monitor all potential shooters and bombers – that is a physical impossibility.  There will always be a supply of newly radicalised ‘clean skins’ to conduct such missions.  In addition, those now returning to their home nations from the conflict in Syria are competent fighters, well versed in skill-at-arms and calm enough under fire.  The attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on Tuesday is the fifth major incident faced by the Turkish people in the past few months.

I know the airport well and its security is generally good by most western standards.  The police are vigilant and already on a high state of alert.  Turkey, however, is under threat from two fronts.  Firstly, the Kurdish separatist movement known as the PKK who are fighting a campaign that has been going on for many years.   Secondly from Daesh who have been blamed by the Turkish leadership for this latest atrocity.  We should expect more such events in this region which forms the interface between East and West and is on the front line of the Middle Eastern turmoil.


Change of tactics

But something has now changed.  Terror tactics in the past four decades have focussed on either hijacking or placing an explosive device on board an aircraft.  Thus security measures have focussed on preventing weapons or devices from being moved airside.  Millions of pounds have been spent on such measures at all airports around the globe.  But now the terrorist’s targets are not airside.  They are striking at packed departure lounges which are pre-security checks.  They strike with both automatic weapons and suicide vests those exacerbating their lethality.  These new tactics demand new thinking and an urgent new response.

Extending formal security searches and x-rays outwards to cover a vastly larger perimeter is simply not an option and would cause even more delay and despondency to an already demoralised, yet sympathetic, travelling public. 

However, there are measures that can be taken to respond.  Increased random searches and vehicle check points (VCPs) may be needed.  New technologies such as facial recognition can spot suspects as they approach the vicinity of the site.  Additional devices to spot those carrying weapons can be installed at the entrances to terminal buildings.  Like it or not, profiling will be needed.  Far stricter controls on who is allowed in or back into the country are needed now.


£350 million

Those who led the BREXIT campaign promised improved border controls and better security.  They now must deliver and that will cost considerable volumes of investment – perhaps the fictitious £350 million per week will be used.

The UK’s departure from the EU shows weakness and massive political disunity at exactly the time when strength and close cooperation are needed.  The machinery of government will be diverted for many years sorting out the British withdrawal from Europe when really its emphasis should be on strengthening alliances and coordination of security and intelligence data.  Our departure increases our vulnerability, increases already rising racial tensions and makes an attack on this country more likely.


Five year plan!

The Home Office held a briefing to industry recently on its research priorities.  It announced a much needed programme to improve airport security.  However, the timeframe described was over the next 5 years.  I really thought I had misheard.  Five months perhaps?  Five weeks surely?  No, five years.  I really believe this figure of 5 needs to be urgently revisited and the police and security services given the resources and equipment they need to secure the safety of the travelling public.



In the turmoil following the referendum, we are more vulnerable than ever and some serious responses, strong leadership and resources are needed now.  The current pathetic party squabbling needs to stop and those who promised so much need to be held to account and to present their plans to secure our borders.  Now.



SERIFM is spearheaded by TWinFM in conjunction with TriTectus Strategic Resilience Limited. SERIFM aims to create more resilient organisations and assist the FM community to share threat data and exploit new technology. It is the intention of SERIFM to help enable this sharing. Security and Resilience In Facilities Management will provide the ideal platform to help create a highly informed customer, to demand the highest quality imagery from visual surveillance systems, to inform the supply chain of the need for resilience and to highlight new technologies, procedures and tactics as they are deployed and as experience is gained from their use. SERIFM is a not-for-profit group dedicated to leading the fight back against crime and strengthening resilience at a time of reduced national resources.

SERIFM’S inaugural conference will set the UK’s strategic resilience picture as seen through the eyes of the Metropolitan Police, the Cabinet Office, academia and the security services.  The date and location to be advised.

Article written by Jeff Little, OBE | Published 29 June 2016


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