On 4th January 2010, Quilliam issued the following press release:

 

 Passenger Profiling Risks Damaging Counter Terrorism Efforts

 

Since the Christmas Day attempted bomb attack on an airliner bound for Detroit, there have been calls to profile passengers according to age, ethnicity, gender or geography as part of British airport security policy. This coincides with the US announcement that passengers from or travelling through 14 countries will face increased security checks. Such profiling is ineffective and may actually make terrorist attacks easier.

Advocates of passenger profiling in Britain have included BAA (the company which runs six UK airports including the country’s largest, London Heathrow), an estimated 70% of Conservative party members and some back-bench MPs.

Whilst it is possible to identify some trends among those convicted of terrorism to date and Quilliam agrees that Islamist terrorism is currently the main threat to airliner security, Islamist terrorist organisations around the world have previously successfully adapted to profiling to evade security measures. For example, white female terrorists involved in the Moscow theatre attack of 2002 dressed in Western clothing in the knowledge that Russian security forces would be less likely to profile them as a threat.

Islam is not ethnically or geographically centred – nor is terrorism. This, coupled with the fact that a large number of converts have been involved in Islamist terrorist plots, makes ‘identifying’ Muslims and profiling people by religion an impossibility.

Previous terrorism cases have shown why profiling on the basis of race, gender, age or geographic location can often be ineffective:

1.    Profiling on the basis of geography: terrorists who have attacked US airliners, including Richard Reid and the 9/11 hijackers, have been from or based in European countries. Recent arrests in the US and Canada have also shown that the US faces a very real threat from radicalisation at home and in its nearest neighbour. None of these countries are on the US’s list.1

2.    Profiling on the basis of race: Muriel Degauque, a Belgian citizen of European origin, was the first female European suicide bomber in Iraq in 2005. More recently, profiling would have failed to identify Andrew Ibrahim and Nicky Reilly, both of whom converted to Islam before going on to plot terrorist attacks.

3.    Profiling on the basis of gender: female suicide bombers have been behind many of the most lethal attacks in Iraq and Israel over recent years.

4.    Profiling on the basis of age: 50-year-old Samira Ahmed Jassim, who was arrested in Iraq in 2009, has admitted to running a network which recruited and trained female suicide bombers. Also in 2009, the Pakistani army announced that it had discovered a Taliban run school in which boys as young as nine were being trained to carry out suicide bombings.

Profiling also risks alienating Muslims who are visibly devout but who reject the ideologies that lie behind terrorism. Distrust between visibly devout Muslims and the government risks endangering cooperative efforts to combat Islamist extremism and root out violent extremists.

Security measures must be proactive, not reactive. If security measures are to remain one step ahead of terrorists then profiling should be avoided as it allows terrorist organisations to identify which of their future recruits is least likely to be stopped in an airport. Rather than developing systems of passenger profiling, money should be spent on improving the detection of explosives and identifying suspicious behaviour, regardless of age, ethnicity or gender. Improvements should also be made to systems for tracking individuals who have received terrorist training.

A Quilliam spokesman said:

‘Rather than using blunt measures like passenger profiling, governments must engage in a ‘battle of ideas’ to combat the Islamist ideologies which justify terrorism. Attempting to catch terrorists at an airport’s boarding gates will not always work, individuals who adopt terrorist ideologies must be challenged.’

Quilliam’s co-director, Ed Husain, has also written an article on this topic entitled ‘Muslim profiling is a recipe for insecurity’ which appeared in the Guardian on Friday 1st January 2010.

 
 
Notes:
1.    The US transportation security administration has announced that passengers flying into the US from or through the following countries will go through “enhanced screening”:  Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen