U.S. officials say a Northwest Airlines passenger from Nigeria said he was acting on behalf of Al Qaeda when he tried to blow up a flight Friday as it landed in Detroit.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., identified the suspect as Abdul Mudallad, a Nigerian. King said the flight began in Nigeria and went through Amsterdam en route to Detroit.
Airport security in Lagos and Amsterdam may have been an issue on how this suspect was able to board Northwest Airlines.
Murtala Muhammed International Airport is located in Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria, and is the major airport serving the city of Lagos, southwestern Nigeria and the entire nation. Originally known as Lagos International Airport, it was renamed midway during construction after a former Nigerian military head of state Murtala Muhammed. The international terminal was modelled after Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. The airport opened officially on 15 March 1979. It is the main base for Nigeria’s flag carrier airlines, Nigerian Eagle Airlines and Arik Air.
Murtala Muhammed International Airport consists of an international and a domestic terminal, located about one kilometre from each other. Both terminals share the same runways. The domestic terminal was relocated to the old Lagos domestic terminal in 2000 after a fire. A new domestic terminal has been constructed and was commissioned on 7 April 2007.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, the international terminal had a reputation of being a dangerous airport. From 1992 through 2000, the US Federal Aviation Administration posted warning signs in all US international airports advising travelers that security conditions at LOS did not meet ICAO minimum standards. In 1993 the FAA suspended air service between Lagos and the United States.
During this period, security at LOS continued to be a serious problem.
Travelers arriving in Lagos were harassed both inside and outside of the airport terminal by criminals. Airport staff contributed to its reputation.
Immigration officers required bribes before stamping passports, while customs agents demanded payment for nonexistent fees. In addition, several jet airplanes were attacked by criminals who stopped planes taxiing to and from the terminal and robbed their cargo holds. Many travel guides suggested that Nigeria-bound travelers fly into Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano and take domestic flights or ground transportation into Lagos.
Following Olusegun Obasanjo’s democratic election in 1999, the security situation at LOS began to improve. Airport police instituted a “shoot on sight” policy for anyone found in the secure areas around runways and taxiways, stopping further airplane robberies. Police secured the inside of the terminal and the arrival areas outside. The FAA ended its suspension of direct flights to Nigeria in 2001 in recognition of these security improvements.
Recent years have seen substantial improvements at Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Malfunctioning and non-operational infrastructure such as air conditioning and luggage belts have been repaired. The entire airport has been cleaned, and many new restaurants and duty-free stores have opened. Bilateral Air Services Agreements signed between Nigeria and other countries are being revived and new ones signed. These agreements have seen the likes of Emirates, Ocean Air, Delta and China Southern Airlines express interest and receive landing rights to Nigeria’s largest international airport.
The Federal Government has given approval for the expansion of the departure and arrival halls of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport to accommodate the ever increasing traffic at the airport.
AMSTERDAM SCHIPHOL SECURITY
Amsterdam is a major transfer point in between Skyteam partner airlines.
During a whirlwind tour of security and defense operations in The Netherlands , security executives at Schiphol Airport outlined plans to increase the number of cameras and sensors over the next few years to be able to reduce the number of personnel on site.
Miro Jerkovik, senior manager of security, research and development; Gunther von Adrichem, project manager of security, research and development; and Hans Geerlink, duty manager of security, opened the doors of Schipol’s program for a group of U.S.-based trade journalists.
There is a significant focus on technology at Schiphol. The airport currently has 1,000 cameras in place and plans to increase that number to between 3,000 and 4,000 (a mixture of converted analog and IP cameras) over the next few years. The plan is to cover the airport with cameras that integrate with other technologies such as video analytics, license plate recognition and facial recognition, for example. “The whole point is to use cameras, not people,” Miro said.
Approximately, 15 locations in the airport have L3 millimeter wave scanning machines in use. Although these products have met with criticism in the United States, von Adrichmem said it is rare that passengers opt out of being scanned with the machine.
“We can show that this type of security is superior to what we have today,” he said. “It can find smaller stuff than we used to.”
Schiphol is an enormous facility with approximately 200 security checkpoints — the majority of those are located in the international terminal (it has 80 U.S. bound flights per day). Since the airport is located on one level, it has no way of differentiating incoming and outgoing passengers. International passengers are first checked at customs for a valid passport and boarding pass and are then screened at the gate. Those flying within Europe are screened in a manner similar to the TSA’s process in the United States and then enter into a centralized area where screening is not necessary at the gate.
At these gate-screening areas, five agents conduct behavior profiling interviews on each outgoing passenger. Questions depend on the traveler, but common questions include how long a person stayed in the area, where did a person stay, what portable electronic devices did a passenger bring into the country and did they pack their own bags. As four agents speak directly with passengers, and screen passports, another profiler oversees the whole operation, looking for suspicious behavior.
Even though this system seems to work well on the surface, Jerkovik was quick to point out that “you never know what’s coming next … you make a strategy and then you have to change it” as the risk landscape changes.
Gate screening might not always be part of the program at Schiphol — von Adrichmem noted that they are considering building a second level to distinguish departing and arriving passengers. This move, although costly, would enable the airport to move its international terminal to centralized security screening.
Policies and procedures changing are part of life when it comes to airport security. From a traveler’s perspective, this can be challenging. “Sometimes regulations are hard to handle and hard to make it reasonable from the passenger’s perspective but it all makes sense,” von Adrichmem said. “There is a lot of effort and know-how that goes into how to make it right.”