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Safety experts concerned by repeated security lapses at Dhaka airport

  • Published at 12:41 am March 24th, 2019
Dhaka airport safety
Concerns about airport security came to the forefront after the attempted hijacking of a Biman Bangladesh plane on February 24 Dhaka Tribune

Lax security at the airport not only poses threats for passengers, but also negatively affects Bangladesh’s image in the international arena, the experts added

Recent security lapses at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka have raised eyebrows among safety experts, as multiple passengers have managed to sneak firearms past terminal gates.

Lax security at the airport not only poses threats for passengers, but also negatively affects Bangladesh’s image in the international arena, the experts added.

The issue of airport security entered the limelight after 23-year-old Md Palash Ahmed, alias Mahibi Jahan, hijacked Biman flight BG-147 after it took off from Dhaka and was heading to Chittagong on February 24.

According to the authorities concerned, the metal detector did not raise any alarms as the gun was fake, and Palash consequently managed to avoid a body search. CCTV footage did not capture anything out of the ordinary at the time.

However, what is more alarming, there were two other security breaches in the last month, where the passengers accidentally carried licensed firearms past security without detection, before declaring them.

There is a four layer security system in place at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

Two breaches in a month

On March 6, Dhaka airport authorities failed to notice a licensed 9mm pistol with nine live rounds, after film star and road safety activist, Ilias Kanchan,  accidentally left it in his bag.

The actor disclosed that he had forgotten to take out the gun while he was undergoing a body check, but was alarmed to find that it went through the security scan without raising any red flags. 

Ilias Kanchan said he was extremely alarmed at the lack of alertness of the airport’s security staff.

On March 8, passenger Md Mamun Ali, travelling to Sylhet from Dhaka, passed through the security check in the domestic terminal without any alarms raised by the scanner or security officers. Immediately afterwards, he declared he was carrying a licensed firearm with seven rounds.

What do you do if you have a firearm?

Aviation Security (Avsec) Director Nure Alam Siddique said all passengers have to declare if they have a firearm at the entrance point of airport terminals.

He or she has to fill out a form and surrender the firearm, bullets, and relevant documentation to airline officials. The passenger will receive a receipt in return. 

The firearm and ammunition will then be taken to the destination under the pilot’s supervision in special boxes. Upon arrival, the passenger can collect his weapon from the boarding point.

How does the security system work?

Officials say there is a four tier security system at the airport, including modern equipment, to check passengers and baggage.

Avsec, run by the Bangladesh Air Force, consists of members of the air force, civil aviation, Ansar, and the police.

The first round of checks is conducted by the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) outside Dhaka airport. The APBn only checks vehicles that appear suspicious.

Before entering Dhaka airport, all baggage is run through a scanner while passengers walk through a metal detector and undergo body searches.

Subsequently, after passengers collect boarding passes and cross immigration, they go through another round of checking.

In the last stage, before boarding the plane, all passenger belongings, including handbags, watches, and mobile phones, are run through a scanner once more, and passengers once again undergo body searches.

Officials say the scanners at the airport are state-of-the-art, and no one can cross the scan with a firearm unless the scanner operators are negligent in their duties.

State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism, Mahbub Ali, said they have not found any flaws in the airport security system that could allow passengers to board planes with firearms.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) Chairman, Air Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan, dismissed the recent security breaches as isolated incidents.

“Whenever there is an incident we take corrective measures,” he said.

Punishment for negligence a must

Aviation expert, Ashish Roy Chowdhury, said recent security breaches at Dhaka airport, which are mostly at the domestic terminal, are mainly the result of a lack of responsibility and awareness among security officials.

 “The security system at Dhaka airport is mostly focused on terminal security, but there should also be surveillance of the cargo and boundary areas. We also need a scanning system for cars,” he said.

“There will be trouble if such incidents continue, as Bangladesh’s international image will be seriously tarnished,” Ashish, also chief operating officer of Regent Airways, added.

Former director of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, MK Zakir Hasan, said if a passenger manages to enter the airport with anything that is banned, then it is the fault of security personnel.

“They [security personnel] may have been careless, or had improper training. They may also be tired from working long hours, so people who work in checking should take regular breaks,” he added, stressing that negligent security officials need to be punished.

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said they have enhanced the security system at the airport based on intelligence information, with the aim of preventing future hijacking attempts.

He added that action would be taken against negligent officials on the basis of probe reports.

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