UN looks to address aviation terror threat

As the world prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre, the United Nations has launched a new programme to combat the threat of terrorist attack on the aviation industry.

The United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) announced a new programme on Threat Assessment Models for Aviation Security (TAM), with the warning that aviation is still a prime target for terror groups.

Speaking at the virtual launch Dr Raffi Gregorian Deputy to the Under-Secretary-General and Director, United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, said the lessons of the past 20 years needed to be learned and that few around the world will forget where they were when on 9/11.

“Twenty years ago, terrorists attacked the United States with a previously unthinkable level of violence,” he said. “In the span of a little more than an hour, nearly 3,000 people from some 90 countries perished, while thousands more were wounded or sickened.

“Like most of you, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the 9/11 attacks occurred. As I made my way home from the US State Department that day, I walked with other stranded government workers down the highway, past the still burning wreckage of the Pentagon, where just a few days before I had been serving on a Navy reserve assignment.

“The terrorists killed a number of my shipmates and wounded and disabled others. Although unscathed myself, my world was changed forever, just as it was for many others that day. Beyond the unprecedented level of violence, our world observed – in shock and horror – an equally unbelievable level of malicious ingenuity in exploiting our weaknesses.”

Gregorian added: “Twenty years on, civil aviation remains an attractive target and a channel for terrorism. We continue to be reminded of the vulnerabilities to civil aviation with tragic events such as the 2016 attacks at the Brussels and Istanbul airports.

“But perhaps less known is that other thwarted attacks could also have caused great loss. In 2006, law enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom successfully foiled an attempted attack using liquid explosives. This prompted significant innovation and adjustments to airport screening capabilities.

“On Christmas Day 2009, despite authorities having received indications of a planned attack, a young suicide bomber was able to board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bound from Amsterdam to Detroit; fortunately, the improvised explosive device concealed in the bomber’s undergarments failed to explode, and passengers were able to subdue him and extinguish the flames that might still have set off the explosives.

“More recently, in July 2017, the Islamic State was able to send explosives undetected through the air cargo network. Fortunately, this was foiled in what we now know as the Sydney plane plot. Although this incident underscores the vulnerabilities of the aviation security ecosystem in our interconnected world, it also galvanized efforts to tackle them in a more integrated, cohesive manner.”

He said no nation could effectively tackle the threat in isolation.

“Security is a shared responsibility. And together, we continue to evolve, adapt, and innovate to improve the global aviation security framework.

“Our colleagues and friends at the International Civil Aviation Organization have developed a robust Global Aviation Security Plan along with a set of Standards and Recommended Practices for the security of international air transport.

“However, each of us has to work to avoid blind spots. It begins with strengthening our cooperation at the national level, moving beyond siloed organizations, and pooling our collective resources and expertise to ensure a safe air travel network. We must take a step further in closing any upstream gaps that prevent key information from reaching the right people, at the right time.

“Because the effectiveness of our aviation security infrastructure is only as good as the information coming to inform it.”

His views were echoed by UN under-secretary-general for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov.

“As we approach the 20-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, civil aviation remains an attractive target for terrorist groups,” he said. “Indeed, terrorist threats to civil aviation and related critical infrastructure continue to evolve with ever-inventive ways to circumvent security controls. Faced with this reality, it is of critical importance that Member States collectively face the challenges and keep pace with the ever-evolving threats and that we do everything in our power to ensure that our security infrastructures are acute and agile enough to anticipate and counter these threats.”

The TAM Programme will provide technical assistance and capacity-building tools to UN member states for risk-based decision-making to secure global civil aviation systems. UNOCT added the programme strengthens the nexus between counterterrorism and aviation security by fostering national cooperation between siloed organizations in support of safe and secure air travel.

Led by UNOCT, the programme has integrated expertise from the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

“As we approach the 20-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, civil aviation remains an attractive target for terrorist groups,” he said. “Indeed, terrorist threats to civil aviation and related critical infrastructure continue to evolve with ever-inventive ways to circumvent security controls. Faced with this reality, it is of critical importance that Member States collectively face the challenges and keep pace with the ever-evolving threats and that we do everything in our power to ensure that our security infrastructures are acute and agile enough to anticipate and counter these threats.”

Vladimir Voronkov. United Nations

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