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INSIDE TRACK: The battle to protect transport from terror

IN less than two weeks, representatives from aviation, maritime and transport security sectors will congregate in London for one of the world's largest gatherings of counter-terrorism experts.

The annual Counter Terror Expo, now in its sixth year, is a depressing reminder that our roads, railways and airports remain a prime target for would-be terrorists.

Around 10,000 delegates are expected to attend, with 400 exhibitors selling the latest in counter-terror technology and expertise.

With Scotland set to host the Commonwealth Games, MTV Europe Music Awards and Ryder Cup it is reasonable to assume that some Scots executives will be among the delegates.

Transport systems will be under the microscope on April 30 when Dvir Rubinshtein, an aviation security expert from Israel's Department of Security, will discuss intelligence-sharing between airports and the "roadmap to effective airport security".

Chris Stevens, technical director for UK-based security consultancy Sidos UK, will discuss examples of "vulnerability reduction" from airports and railway stations around the world and, ominously, "using materials selection to help reduce casualty numbers from incidents". In other words, what is least likely to kill people if it is blown up or collapses?

Transport is not the only type of infrastructure in the spotlight of course - computer systems and communications networks are prime targets for cyber terrorists, and economic powerhouses such as the City of London are always under threat.

However, time and again it is key transport hubs which come under attack. On Monday, more than 70 people were killed when a crowded bus station on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria, was bombed, with suspicion so far falling on Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

It was the latest in a long line of transport-related terror attacks across the globe. Most of us probably associate counter-terrorism and travel with airports. The tedious routine of body scanners, removing shoes and decanting liquids from our hand luggage into plastic containers has a way of evoking a sense of menace. On the other hand, few of us probably envisage any danger when we board a train, bus or subway. Yet, in recent years successful terror attacks have targeted those modes of transport more than any other.

The July 7 bombers attacked three London Underground trains and a double decker bus. The attacks killed 52 commuters and injured 700 more.

March 11 this year also marked 10 years since Madrid suffered its worst peacetime atrocity when an al Qaeda-inspired terror cell blew up a rush-hour commuter train. If it happened in Scotland it would probably be the equivalent of attacking the Edinburgh Waverley-Glasgow Queen Street express train at 8am on a weekday. The attack killed 191 people. Pre-9/11, it was the Tokyo Subway which came under siege when religious extremists unleashed the deadly nerve gas, sarin, killing 13 and injuring thousands.

You can only hope the latest insights unveiled in London will keep the counter-terror experts one step ahead.

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