The triple suicide attack on Istanbul's main international airport,
from which a Turkish Airlines flight to Colombo was to take off a few
hours afterwards, is a stark reminder that terrorist groups are again
aiming at "soft targets" which are not heavily guarded civilian
We are no strangers to attacks on airports - the LTTE attacked the
Bandaranaike International Airport 16 years ago causing a massive amount
of destruction. Fortunately, there was minimal loss of life on that
occasion unlike in Istanbul where more than 40 people have died.
This is indeed not the only occasion in recent memory when airports
have been attacked.
Airports in Rome and Vienna were attacked in 1985. An explosion at a
check-in-area of Shanghai's main international airport injured four
people last month. In March this year, 16 people were killed in two
suicide bombings as bombs ripped through check-in counters at Brussels
Airport. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
A subsequent explosion at a Brussels subway station killed 16 more
In December last year, a suicide car bomb attack killed at least one
civilians near the eastern entrance of the Kabul international airport.
Another 13 civilians were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility
for the attack.
Two explosives were defused at Cairo International Airport on
February 3, 2015. Officials say one bomb was planted in the arrival hall
of the terminal hosting EgyptAir. Another was planted near a police
patrol location in the airport's parking lot. On July 18, 2012, a bomb
exploded on a bus carrying Israeli tourists at the airport in Burgas,
Bulgaria, killing five of the tourists, the Bulgarian bus driver and the
suicide bomber. On January 24, 2011 a suicide bomber blew himself up in
the international arrivals area of Moscow's Domodedovo airport, killing
37 people and wounding 180 others.
These statistics do not include attacks on aircraft by terrorists
through the use of bombs placed in the aircraft itself or by using
Sadly, the Istanbul attack proves that lessons have still not been
learnt, despite repeated attacks on airports by various global terror
groups. I have been to many international airports where my identity or
my baggage were not checked right up to the check-in counters, which is
normally some distance away from the entrance door.
Just a few days ago, I was at a major international transit hub where
my check-in luggage was not checked at all physically or by using a
I am certain that the authorities must be checking the bags before
actually loading them onto the plane, but why not check the bags in the
presence of the passengers? Then it is rather easy to verify the
contents and to catch the culprits if an explosive device or even
contraband is detected. This lax attitude towards checked-in baggage
makes a mockery of the rather intense search of carry-on baggage, shoes,
wallets, watches and belts moments before boarding commences.
It is somewhat unnerving when you can walk all the way up to the
counters without anyone asking who you are. In fact, the lack of
security measures in the area before the passenger terminals (the
so-called landside space) is one of the main security loopholes at many
airports- this was clearly the case at Istanbul here the terrorists
could be seen walking through the landside foyer on CCTV footage before
exploding their suicide belts.
The Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo, on the other hand,
is a model of how things should be security-wise. No one can go in to
the passenger terminal without a passport/ticket and ticketed entry pass
and those who go in after that initial check are usually body searched
and ALL their baggage are sent through a scanner before they actually
enter the passenger terminal. The bags are checked again at the terminal
itself, which is really reassuring despite the minor hassle caused.
All carry-on luggage is checked again before boarding the aircraft at
the relevant gate itself, instead of at a central point. This is more
convenient for both passengers and the security staff, who have more
time to check bags by hand should the need arise.
It also prevents huge queues as passengers are compartmentalised by
flight number and departure gate. One wonders why other major airports,
most of which have far bigger resources at their command, cannot
implement the same methods to ensure better security of all concerned.
There should not be any compromises on security - a bit of sacrifice is
called for to ensure the safety and security of passengers. We hope that
security measures at Colombo's upcoming new terminals would be even
stricter. The renovated airport should also be equipped with the latest
full body scanners and other new safety equipment.
"This tragedy in Istanbul and the one in Brussels earlier this year
show that there is a growing challenge for governments to keep people
safe in the landside parts of the airport," Tony Tyler, director general
of the International Air Transport Association, said. "Moving people
'air-side' more quickly can help to mitigate risk."
Another option is to have a separate body for security at all
passenger terminals (airport, seaport, bus and train terminals). The
best example for such a body is the Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) of the USA, which was set up in the aftermath of
the 9/11 attack of 2001.
The TSA introduced many new safety measures which have since been
adopted worldwide. While the TSA has not been 100 percent foolproof (A
machete-wielding man attacked TSA officers at New Orleans' international
airport in March 2015 and was shot and killed), it has no doubt ensured
better security at US airports. The deployment of Visible Intermodal
Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams comprising heavily armed police
officers has also raised the security profile of many airports. Many
other countries are contemplating the TSA model for airport and train
But the best long-term solution is to destroy terrorism itself. Only
then will the world be able to breathe a little easier even though the
need for airport security will not go away. Airport lobby group ACI's
Director-General Olivier Jankovec says what happened in Istanbul "shows
us that the real challenge now is to stop terrorists before they ever
reach an airport or any other public space.
Better intelligence and more effective information exchange and
cooperation between the competent public authorities needs to become the
highest priority." This is one of the best responses we have seen so far
on the subject of airport security, which must now be a priority for all
Governments and airport operators (public and private) the world over.