Security at railway stations to get boost, says federal minister


Following the news that the suspect in the Berlin Christmas market terrorist attack travelled through Brussels afterwards, the home security minister said he will investigate security options

More cameras, personnel

Federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon has promised to look into heightened security at Brussels’ railway stations, similar to that in place at airports.

The announcement follows the news that Anis Amri, the alleged perpetrator of the attack on Berlin’s Christmas market last month, spent two hours in transit at Brussels North Station. Amri was travelling from Berlin to Milan following the attack on 19 December.

Long before the Berlin attack, national rail authority NMBS announced that it would outfit major stations like Brussels South and Antwerp Central with 750 new security cameras, while renewing 1,550 older cameras in stations across the network.

It would also employ additional security personnel, up to 600 this year alone. Part of their job would be to monitor new security doors due to be installed at major stations.

‘No perfect security’

The measures planned will not necessarily stop terrorism, according to Brice De Ruyver of Ghent University’s criminal and justice department. “Perfect security doesn’t exist,” he said. “If you secure some targets, there’s always the risk that the threat shifts to other targets.”

He does, however, believe in additional security in public places. “The sensation of security is important. People can act strangely if they don’t feel safe in society. The feeling of security is what determines quality of life.”

Passenger ID would be useful not only in the fight against terrorism, but also other areas like human trafficking

- Security expert Brice De Ruyver

A related topic of discussion is the collection of identity details of people travelling on international trains and buses. The idea was sparked in the summer of 2015 when an armed man planning a mass shooting was apprehended on a Thalys train in France. He had boarded the train at Brussels South.

Passenger ID would only work, De Ruyver said, if all of Europe took part. “If everyone doesn’t take part, there will be gaps in the narrative,” he said. “The measure would be useful not only in the fight against terrorism, but also other areas like human trafficking and the drugs trade.”

Jambon also plans to train police in what is known as behavioural detection –  detecting suspicious activity according to the suspect’s behaviour. This would help with terrorism, he said, but also more common crimes like theft and smuggling. A pilot project currently under way at Brussels Airport will be evaluated before the government decides whether to extend the exercise to other traffic hubs.

Meanwhile, NMBS is looking into cameras with facial recognition, but there is no deadline for a decision, a spokesperson said.

Photo: Luc Mercelis/Flickr