On Tuesday, Special Forces from the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) carried out anti-terror simulation exercise at the international wing of the MurtalaMuhammed Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
The objective of the exercise was to show how prepared the forces are to prevent attacks on our airports. Terrorists see airport attacks as opportunity to carry out maximum damage.
The NAF forces joined by other paramilitary personnel simulated a real life situation with gun attacks and medical personnel carrying out rescue operations with attendant petrification of passengers who were not aware of the mock exercise, which led to some of them fainting and stretched out of the terminal to the aero medical centre.
The operation reflected the tragic situation that happens when terrorists attack public facilities like airports, schools and other places. Even as a mock exercise, the reality of gunshots in an airport sent alarming signals to airport users and even those that were aware of the simulation exercise were also afraid, as every gunshot sent waves of fear into the air.
The action may be a response to the call on government to fortify airports security and prepare for possible terror attacks. Although no Nigerian airport is a hub but about 7000 passengers are processed everyday through the Lagos airport alone to international destinations.
In June this year, the Ataturk International Airport, Istanbul was attacked by terrorists and 41 people were killed and that marked the second tragic attack at airports in 2016.
According to records, in 2007 Glasgow International Airport was attacked and in the same year there was the JFK New York attack plot, the 2013 Beijing airport bombing and the Wichita airport bomb attempt in the US.
There was also Jinna International Airport, Karachi bomb attack in Pakistan and in 2015, there was SabihaGokcen airport bombing and on March 22, 2016, there were three coordinated bombings in Belgium; two attacks at Brussels airport in Zaventem and one at the metro station.
Aviation security expert and the CEO of Scope Centre, Adebayo Babatunde, told THISDAY that terrorists succeed when there is security breach, which in the case of airport would enable terrorists to have access to the terminal and detonate their weapons of destruction, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS) for maximum damage.
Babatunde said every security apparatus must have very intelligent community, noting that when there is failure of local intelligence, terrorists may have their way. So beyond the physical security checks, there must be very strong intelligence which when effectively deployed would forestall possible terror attacks.
“What this tells us is that intelligence is the most potent weapon to tackle these problems,” he said.
Babatunde explained that to effectively check security, passengers should be screened from the point of entry to the terminal and this means that government must invest in security.
“What do you invest in? You have to invest in solutions that can detect availability of IEDs and on person’s terrorism weapons. Today’s solution is that you have to look at the entire airport security architecture. Do we have adequate remedy for the level of threat that pervades the world today? Are we able to prevent situation as it happened in Brussels and Istanbul? Are we able to do that in Nigeria? This is because you should not forget that security breaches don’t happen every day. It never happened in Brussels. It happens once and once it does it has maximum economic damage,” he added.
Thesimulation exercise on Tuesday was delayed, as the event,scheduled to start at 9 am did not commence until about 12.15 pm, when a group of ‘terrorists’ took over the departure hall of the international wing of the airport shooting sporadically and also holding people hostage.
That was the scenario before the Special Forces came in minutes later .The Special Forces, who were battle ready, manoeuvered their way into the terminal building with the help of NAF Helicopter with registration number 565 that dropped men from the Special Forces on the roof of the terminal.
The special forces, who came in through the roof of the terminal was able to overpower the terrorists and arrest them after a serious gun duel that lasted for some minutes.
The arrested terrorists, who wore masked were later led into a waiting military van and taken to an undisclosed location.
Speaking shortly after the simulation exercise that lasted for about 45 minutes, the Chief of Air Staff, (CAS), Air Marshal SadiqueAbubakar, explained that the essence of the simulation was to evaluate the state of preparedness of the Special Forces in the event of any terrorists attack at airports.
On whether he was satisfied with the exercise, he said,
He was very happy with the mock exercise, although he had seen some gaps, adding that he and the team would go back, evaluate and bridge the gaps noticed during the exercise. Part of the gaps might be the vain search for the personnel with the medical kits at the start of the exercise.
The CAS stated that some of the men that carried out the mock operation were trained in Pakistan and while some were trained in Nigeria, adding that all the security agencies have been very cooperative to make the exercise possible.
Present at scene of the simulation exercise were the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Police, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Aviation Security (ASEC), Nigeria Civil Defense Corp (NCDC), Men from Police Anti –bomb squad, NAF, who was the host.
However, despite the several announcements by airport authority on the exercise and the banners placed at conspicuous locations at the airport, notifying airport users about the simulation exercise, some passengers were still shocked and petrified when the simulation exercise started.
For instance, one of the passengers developed High Blood Pressure attack while the operation was ongoing, while another woman was rushed out of the scene to another part of the terminal by medics for treatment.
However, the exercise showed that Nigeria has the capability to counter terror attacks at its airports. Abubakar said the exercise had been carried out at the Abuja airport and would also be carried out at other major airports in the country. If such number of NAF personnel could quickly be deployed in a possible terror attack in minutes, it means that Nigeria is really prepared to protect its airports from terrorists.