Belgium's transport minister quits over EU reports

She had been under fire for ignoring damning reports on poor security at country's airports

BRUSSELS • Belgium's Transport Minister resigned yesterday after being accused of ignoring damning European Union (EU) reports on the poor state of security at the country's airports that was laid bare by suicide attacks last month.

"Transport Minister Jacqueline Galant has offered her resignation to the King, which was accepted," Prime Minister Charles Michel said after a Cabinet meeting, according to a statement from the royal palace.

Ms Galant was under fire after the EU reports were leaked to media and following the shock resignation of a top transport official who accused her of incompetence and "Gestapo-like" behaviour.

Two Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attackers blew themselves up in the departure hall at Brussels airport on March 22 in a first wave of coordinated attacks that also hit a Brussels metro station, killing a total of 32 people.

The EU reports only pertained to areas of the airport beyond security checks, but they pointed to "serious deficiences" in security, including the tracing of explosive devices. The latest report from 2015 said Belgium was still "non-compliant, with serious deficiencies" in five areas and "non-compliant" in three areas based on a visit to Antwerp airport.

Ms Jacqueline Galant denied she was ever made aware of the reports, which also said that the relevant authorities were woefully understaffed. However, a top official said he had clearly notified her.

Ms Galant denied she was ever made aware of the reports, which also said that the relevant authorities were woefully understaffed. However, a top official said he had clearly notified her and her office on the matter.

EU lawmakers took a decisive step on Thursday in favour of bolstering security with the approval of a continent-wide system to collect and share information on airline passengers, following terrorist attacks in recent months.

To take effect, the law requires the final approval of a majority of the EU's member governments, but that is expected to be a formality when interior ministers meet in Luxembourg on April 21.

The data collection involves mainly names, travel dates, itineraries and payment details that must be kept for five years.

However, the measure will make it mandatory for all airlines to provide information about passengers travelling to and from the EU to national authorities in Europe.

Meanwhile, British police arrested five people on suspicion of preparing acts of terrorism as part of an investigation which a security source said was linked to the attacks in Paris and Brussels. Three men and a woman were detained in Birmingham, central England, on Thursday and another man was held at London's Gatwick Airport in the early hours of yesterday.

Chief Constable Marcus Beale from West Midlands Police said: "This action forms part of an extensive investigation by West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, together with the wider counter terrorism network, (domestic spy agency) MI-5 and international partners including Belgian and French authorities to address any associated threat to the UK following the attacks in Europe."

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Belgium's transport minister quits over EU reports'. Print Edition | Subscribe