Security Heightened After Deadly Terrorist Attacks in Brussels, But Will It Help?

By Jonathan Spira on 23 March 2016
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Officials in cities across the globe, including major cities in the United States, stepped up security in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, but much of the security is more to reassure the public than to fight terrorists, given that there are limits as to what can be done.

While similar attacks are unlikely elsewhere, this has less to do with the security precautions in place and much more to do with local conditions that allowed the chain of events to unfold.

Incidents such as the Thayls train shooting, which took place shortly after a border crossing from Belgium into France, the 2014 murder of four people outside a Jewish museum in Brussels, and even the Charlie Hebdo attacks, have been linked to Salah Abdeslam, the architect of the Paris attacks last November. Abdeslam lived in a Brussels neighborhood, known as a hotbed of Islamist extremism and radicalization, and the attacks following his capture last Friday in Brussels does not appear to be a coincidence.

While Brussels authorities were exhorting people to limit their movements, the message in New York was quite different, urging the public to go about its business.

“We refuse to be afraid and we refuse to change who we are, but we are going to respond to [terrorists’] efforts to create chaos by showing them order, by showing our society functioning, our city functioning,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference Tuesday.

“The terrorists, by definition, try to use death as their tool. Their aim is to spread death. We answer them with life,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is no 100% effective solution that anyone can undertake, anywhere.

When officials tighten security measures, this can have the effect of diverting terrorists away from a potential target or even delaying their attack, but that is the extent to which these measures work. Indeed, increased security in prominent venues can lead attackers to act on less protected soft targets where the devastation might even be greater.

One area that most experts agree is ripe for reform is security at airport perimeters. Most airports in the United States and in most countries don’t screen arriving vehicles nor do they screen passengers until they head airside. This has left passengers in check-in areas vulnerable to attack and terrorists have not hesitated to exploit these security holes.

Experts caution, however, that too many checkpoints can create their own problems as any venue where a number of people have to wait instantly becomes a target.

As a result, airport security may now have to be revised across the European continent and the Americas to address current deficiencies but such changes may also push terrorists to direct their attention more to trains and subways.

The inherent open nature of a system such as New York City’s subway means that airport-like passenger and bag screening is simply impossible. All officials can do is increase the armed police presence, tell passengers to remain alert for unattended bags and suspicious individuals, and develop technology-based surveillance systems that will identify potential threats.

Absent the declaration of martial law, authorities have limited options to eliminate terrorist attacks and most cities will never be able to completely forestall a terrorist act.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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