ANALYSIS - Tougher Staff Vetting, Checks Needed As Al-Qaeda May Mount 'Symbolic' Attacks On Aviation

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ANALYSIS - Tougher Staff Vetting, Checks Needed as Al-Qaeda May Mount 'Symbolic' Attacks on Aviation

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 30th December, 2018) Countries should adopt tougher checks at airports and ensure thorough screening of airport staff, experts told Sputnik amid raising concerns over resurgence of al-Qaeda terrorist group (banned in Russia) in Europe and its possible attacks on airports or civil aviation.

Last week, UK Security Minister Ben Wallace warned that al-Qaeda terrorists might be planning new, more sophisticated attacks in Europe saying that in 2019 the world should be "alert to al-Qaeda" since the militants had learned new ways of getting explosives on planes.

According to experts, despite the fact that the activities of the Islamic State terrorist group (IS, banned in Russia) have recently been in the spotlight of the international community, the threat from al-Qaeda organization was still in place.

"Since 2014, IS has become the most dominant global terrorist group. But the threat posed by al-Qaeda has persisted ... So al-Qaeda has been in parallel with the Islamic State, the group continued to grow. And the Islamic State is becoming the main focus of counter-terrorism operations. We are seeing that al-Qaeda is slowly raising its head up," Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, an international terrorism expert and the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said.

Gunaratna also did not rule out that the two organizations might become allies in the future to enhance their operating capabilities.

"We are witnessing the formation of a new alliance between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Most likely, in 2019 we will see unique moves between these two organizations," Gunaratna argued.

Speaking about the possibility of new attacks on civil aviation, experts agreed that the terrorist group was capable of mounting such assaults due to their horrifying effect on the general public.

"Al-Qaeda has always been active in attacking civil aviation. It has begun with the big attack of 9/11, but since there were a lot of plots by al-Qaeda, not only by al-Qaeda Central with its leadership in Afghanistan, but by factions," Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at Israel's International Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT) in Herzlyia, indicated.

Karmon recalled that following the 9/11 attack al-Qaeda terrorists have attempted to carry out several more attacks on civil aviation, including in the United States.

According to Karmon, terrorists use attacks on aviation to spread terror among the peoples of the world and due to the fact that their security and economic implications are more grave compared to those caused by a ramming or stabbing attack.

"It is more impressive. If they succeed to bomb a plane or even an airport, clearly media coverage and psychological threat to population [will be bigger] ... We know that almost always when there was a successful attack, for many months or even years civilian aviation traffic is disturbed," Karmon indicated.

Gunaratna, in turn, said that he believed that al-Qaeda was determined to increase the number of such attacks in the future.

Al-Qaeda is determined to mount high-impact strategic and symbolical attacks, and such attacks take considerable amount of time to plan and execute.

"With regard to al-Qaeda, they already have huge experience in strategy of targeting airplanes and airports ... What we are seeing is that al-Qaeda has very significant preparedness, even al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has experience of mounting such attacks. There is nothing new, it is simply resurgence of al-Qaeda as it is," Gunaratna said.

The experts agreed on the fact that despite authorities' efforts, security systems at airports still had a number of vulnerabilities.

"So many people in the aviation industry could be biased, grounded or arrested because of this threat. Aviation is the most sensitive security domain in the world. It is very important to screen aviation staff and aviation support staff," Gunaratna stated.

He indicated that the aviation personnel's vetting should be carried out not only upon employment, but on an ongoing basis in order to prevent the staff's recruitment by terrorists.

Karmon, in turn, indicated that airports in many countries of the world were vulnerable to possible terrorist attacks, arguing that the security measures and checks that were being taken did not guarantee 100-percent protection against terrorist attacks.

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