Christmas a daunting time for security services

Police officers patrol at the entrance of the Christmas market in Strasbourg, eastern France, on Dec 20, 2016.
Police officers patrol at the entrance of the Christmas market in Strasbourg, eastern France, on Dec 20, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN • The Christmas season is looming as a daunting challenge for law enforcement.

In France this year, the annual Strasbourg Christmas market opened under heavy security, the Washington Post reported.

Instead of the usual gleam of holiday decorations in the central square, it was left mostly bare by the authorities - in case they needed to set up a field hospital.

Those heading to the market must first pass through one of the 15 checkpoints fortifying the centre of the city.

Vehicles are not allowed on the streets near the market, and the closest tram stops have been shut down temporarily.

A number of Asian cities are also on alert and deploying similar measures. In Indonesia, police are keeping a close watch on the situation after busting a terrorist cell in West Java that was planning strikes during the December holidays with military-grade explosives.

The Philippines is on its highest terrorism alert in 16 years, with intelligence indicating that a terror cell formed by a group seeking recognition from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror network is already operating and planning a big attack in Manila.

Most recently, two men were detained last month for an attempted bombing near the US Embassy.

Malaysia, too, is bracing itself for the possibility of terror attacks, with ISIS now "desperate" and looking to the Asean region instead of the Middle East as a terror base, according to Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. Around 60 Malaysians are believed to be fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

At a time when terrorist attacks have become all too familiar, public spaces around the world are no longer presumed to be safe. Hence the heavy security in Strasbourg.

Similar precautions are being taken in Metz, another town in Alsace-Lorraine that hosts a famous Christmas market, reported the Washington Post.

In the US too, cities are ramping up security at Christmas events in the wake of the Berlin attack. Police are boosting their presence around holiday villages and major sites in New York, Chicago and Boston, among others, reported the Daily Mail.

In Britain, London Mayor Sadiq Khan yesterday pledged that the Metropolitan Police "will review all security plans in London in the light of last night's events, and that keeping everyone safe remains in the highest priority for the Met Commissioner and for me".

Likewise, the police force said in a statement that it "has detailed plans for protecting public events over the Christmas and New Year period", the Washington Post reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Christmas a daunting time for security services'. Print Edition | Subscribe