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New security plans aims to thwart criminal activity at Brussels Airport

Armed police stand on guard at the departure hall of Brussels airport in Zaventem. (BELGA PHOTO POOL DIDIER LEBRUN)
06:06 16/06/2022

The "Brussels Airport 2022-2025 safety plan" was announced on Wednesday, the first security structure to officially link the airport's on-site police and customs service and professionalise the collection and exchange of information between the authorities.

The initiative, coordinated by the Hal-Vilvoorde public prosecutor's office, aims to provide a framework for the exchange of security skills and knowledge at the airport and is based on the recommendations of the parliamentary commission of inquiry into the terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016.

The "Brussels Airport Safety Plan 2022-2025" does not concern air traffic safety or emergency plans in the event of a crisis, as these are the responsibility of different authorities. The new strategy aims to improve the fight against crime and terrorism on the territory of the airport.

The plan also fills a void: while municipalities have long relied on a local security plan, the "airport city" where an average of 100,000 workers and travellers meet every day had no equivalent. As a result, there is an overly fragmented view of the crime at work at Brussels Airport.

As a major hub in Europe for the transit of people (26.4 million passengers in 2019) and goods (843,000 tonnes of cargo handled in 2021), the airport is also very attractive for criminals who are trafficking in drugs, human beings, false documents, protected species, weapons, diamonds and dirty money.

Brussels Airport is vulnerable because, as with seaports welcoming container vessels, it is impossible to search and check each arrival. "It is for this reason that we must strengthen our position with better information exchange," said a spokesperson for the public prosecutor's office. "We need to improve our knowledge of criminal organisations in order to better target them. This targeting will allow us to further thwart criminals without slowing down the movement of passengers and goods."

The fight against drug trafficking is a priority of the 2022-2025 security plan. The acts of corruption and infiltration of the economy that accompany drug trafficking are also of particular concern to the authorities. Criminals looking for access badges for their accomplices or passage for their cargo attract or pressure workers from private companies or public services.

A case judged by the Brussels court of appeal last autumn shows the size of the problem. Drug traffickers used an exotic fruit and vegetable import company to smuggle cocaine through the airport. It appears from the investigation that the head of the criminal gang was planning to acquire Aviapartner cargo, one of the companies responsible for handling freight.

The acquisition would have allegedly partly financed by several criminal organisations. If this operation had been completed, the criminals would have given themselves a key position in airport activities while laundering their money.

Among the actions developed as part of the security plan, the installation of a police antenna on the Brucargo freight area should make it possible to refine knowledge about the companies active there. Now, when a new business is established, it has to register a point of contact and is visited by the police. The model is that of "intelligence-led policing", in other words, a security model based on risk assessment.

Written by Nick Amies