London — Airports around the world are likely to boost security checks in the wake of Monday’s deadly bombing in Moscow, experts say.
The blast, at the city’s Domodedovo Airport, killed at least 35 people and left more than 100 wounded, several critically.
Experts say it is significant that those who masterminded the attack chose to bomb the arrivals hall of the airport — Moscow’s busiest — because it was an easier target than the heavily-policed departures area.
“Arrivals has always been thought of as the ‘soft’ area of an airport,” explained CNN’s Richard Quest.
“Nobody is flying anywhere, the baggage has all been screened, because it has been on planes already, and crucially, people are leaving the airport. It’s very rare that you ever saw somebody carrying a bag in to arrivals.”
Security analyst Will Geddes told CNN: “The arrivals area is generally less secure .You have a large proportion of members of the public, people meeting friends and family.
“And whereas departures is spread out, with lots of check-in desks, baggage reclaim is slap bang in the middle of the arrivals hall, with the greatest concentration of people around it.”
Geddes said the airport had likely been chosen for a number of reasons, not least the possibilities of inflicting mass casualties — and frightening a large number of ordinary people — in one go.
“This is terrorism in its very real sense: Just as after the [Moscow] Metro attacks last March, the general public was too scared to use the subway, now they will be put off using the airport.”
Quest said security was already tight at Moscow’s airports, but would be stepped up over the coming days.
“I’ve heard lots of things to suggest that the facilities, the standard of comfort, the way people are treated [at Domodedevo] is not up to international standards.
“But on a security level, because of the Chechen incidents, and because of other security issues that Russia has faced, it always has been way up there.
“However, the security emphasis has always been on departures, not arrivals; now that’s going to have to be rethought.”
Experts agree that airports worldwide, not just those in Russia, are likely to review their procedures in the wake of the Moscow attack.
“Security will be increased absolutely everywhere,” said Geddes.
But Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, cautioned against any knee-jerk reaction.
“We need to have a commonsense approach to this,” he said. “There’s no point deploying huge extra layers of security and checkpoints for people to go through.
“We have to recognize the fact that most airports are not only points of arrival and departure for passengers flying by air. They are also retail complexes, food courts, businesses that are trying to attract people in from the outside.”
Baum argues that rather than installing more x-ray machines and metal detectors, airports need to introduce behavioral profiling.
“Passenger profiling is the only proven method of countering the threat to aviation,” he said, calling on airports to be on the lookout “for people that don’t fit in, that seem to be out of place.”
Geddes, though, says tighter restrictions surrounding the arrivals hall are inevitable.
“There’s got to be some sort of rendezvous point, but perhaps you will see airports trying to control the numbers of people in that area, by partitioning it, or staggering the meeting points.
“You’ll see better security controls to get into the meeting area, but also a higher visibility of security staff on the arrivals side, because there is a perception that security stops at customs, and that is likely to change.”
And Quest said airports may begin screening people who come to meet friends and family at arrivals.
“What will happen is that the barrier will get further and further back, so no longer is it just at departures, but at the airport door, or in some cases on the road as you drive up to the terminal.
“In some places, like at Ben Gurion in Israel, you have a security checkpoint way down the road, even before you get to the terminal. That is going to be the future.”