The gun and bomb attack on Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul this week and the airport attack in Brussels in March are reminders that airports are favourite targets for terrorists and so are tourists – which is probably why the attackers chose the international terminal in Istanbul rather than the domestic one.
Security experts warn that airports are hard to defend. Counter-terrorism expert at Deakin University, Greg Barton, told ABC News that more airport attacks must be expected.
Barton said there was no easy solution because if you check travellers before they come through an airport’s front door, it creates a queue outside which then itself becomes a soft target.
Ataturk International Airport is now fully operational and Turkish police special forces have launched 16 simultaneous raids in Istanbul to round up suspects thought to have some connection with ISIS or with the attack.
Many experts say that police intelligence operations and covert surveillance of likely suspects is the best defence against acts of terrorism, although nothing is certain. Terrorists with no qualms about killing civilians are hard to stop. So are religious fanatics who conduct murderous rampages equipped to blow themselves up.
In the Istanbul case, the three attackers, all of whom were killed, are said to have come respectively from Russia’s North Caucasus region, from Uzbekistan and from Kyrgyzstan. One of the terrorists is said to have crossed into Turkey last year from the ISIS-held city of Raqqa in Syria.
In a US study, the think-tank RAND concluded that the most dangerous terrorist attacks involved placement of a bomb near a vulnerable crowd of people. It is not the size of the bomb that matters most, but where it is detonated.
The authors proposed two ways to reduce this vulnerability: move the possible bomb detonation away from the people, or move the people away from the possible bomb detonation. The study also suggested making people a less attractive target by improving ticketing and security so crowds of people aren’t queuing. That’s easily said, but queues remain part of the airport experience around the world, unfortunately.
While the attacks on Istanbul and Brussels airports have raised awareness, attacks on airports are nothing new. On 27 December 1985, seven Arab terrorists attacked two European airports – Rome and Vienna – with assault rifles and hand grenades, killing 19 people and wounding over 100 others.
Over 30 years later, such attacks continue. In a sad aside, the proportion of Australian children who report being worried about terrorism rose sharply last year, Roy Morgan Research shows. Reports about overseas terrorism might have had something to do with it but the Sydney siege in mid-December 2014 seems to have been more directly responsible.
The proportion of Australian 6-13 year-olds who agreed, “I worry about terrorism” had declined from just below half in 2004-2005 to around a third in 2010-2014. In the 12 months following the Martin Place hostage crisis, the rate jumped back to 40% – the highest level since 2007.
Older and younger children both experienced a clear increase in the incidence of terrorism-related anxiety in 2015: 48% of 10-13 year-olds said they worry about terrorism during the year (up 7% points since 2014), compared with 31% of 6-9 year-olds (up 5% points).
Sydney kids were more likely than average to worry about terrorism in 2015: 43% of all young Sydneysiders aged 6-13 agreed, including 35% of 6-9 year-olds and 50% of 10-13 year-olds.
Written by Peter Needham