European airports under security scrutiny

Police checking vehicles at the entry to Brussels Airport. A police union chief in Belgium has warned of a serious security problem at the airport, citing systematic security flaws and the employment of baggage handlers with criminal records.
Police checking vehicles at the entry to Brussels Airport. A police union chief in Belgium has warned of a serious security problem at the airport, citing systematic security flaws and the employment of baggage handlers with criminal records. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • The suicide attacks at Brussels Airport have led to intensified scrutiny of hiring, security and the lack of standardised procedures at airports across Europe, amid questions about whether the recent bombings could have been prevented.

The head of the largest police union in Belgium warned on Thursday of a serious security problem at Brussels Airport, citing systematic security flaws, bureaucratic incompetence and the employment of baggage handlers with criminal records.

His remarks came as airport police wrote an open letter, cited in several Belgian newspapers, expressing deep concern about the level of security at the airport - echoing worries about procedures, staffing and the potential for infiltration by terrorists at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport after the deadly attacks in and near Paris in November last year.

Since 2001, the European Union has adopted a uniform set of rules and procedures for protecting the areas of any airport that are behind security checkpoints.

But the methods for safeguarding of areas accessible to the public are established at a national level and therefore vary among member states. Mr Vincent Gilles, president of SLFP Police, the largest police union in Belgium with 22,000 members, said in a telephone interview that he was disturbed after hearing colleagues say that some baggage handlers had applauded the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

"This is what I have heard from fellow police," he said. "Obviously, one needs to be prudent and we are checking this out."

Mr Gilles said there was a notable and worrying number of employees working at Brussels Airport in baggage handling and on the tarmac who had criminal records, but he did not provide an estimate.

Ms Anke Fransen, a Brussels Airport spokesman, said the company was aware of the various concerns raised by the police union but had no immediate comment.

The Brussels Airport Co said in a statement on Thursday that it was "operationally ready" to reopen and that the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority had granted approval for a partial restart of passenger flights.

The authorities had not made a formal decision on when flights could resume, however, and there were to be no flights before yesterday evening, the statement said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'European airports under security scrutiny'. Print Edition | Subscribe