‘Beware rigid profiling’ in anti-terror fight

Suicide attacks have put security agencies worldwide on alert, but officers on the ground should never have a rigid profile of what a potential terrorist could be like, a security expert said at the Interpol World conference and exhibition here.

“When we ask (some security officers) what is a suspicious sign, they have a mindset, a permanent concept – a bomb is supposed to look like this. Or a terrorist is supposed to look like this,” Mr Yaniv Peretz, programme director of Certified Counter Terrorism Practitioner (CCTP), which trains security professionals, said yesterday.

“This is why racial profiling is so wrong. Profiling has nothing to do with race. Profiling only looks at the irregularities,” he told The Straits Times on the sidelines of a conference on terrorism threat profiling. This means being aware of what the regular circumstances are in a certain environment, or the typical behaviour of a certain group of people, and quickly spotting something abnormal and taking decisive action.

In recent years, large coordinated attacks, such as the ongoing siege of the southern Philippine town of Marawi, are being accompanied by strikes by “lone wolves” who security experts say tend to be radicalised within a short space of time from information they find online, and plan their attacks to exact the greatest amount of damage.

Last July, delivery driver Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a truck into crowds gathered in Nice for a fireworks display, killing more than 80 people.

In May, British citizen Salman Abedi detonated a homemade bomb at a concert in Manchester that killed 22 people and injured over 200. While investigators do not think he was part of a large network, they revealed this week their suspicions that others were involved.

Mr Peretz urged people on the ground – anybody from receptionists to cleaners to the average civilian – to “know the routine and look for irregularity”.

At the same conference, an Interpol coordinator urged member police forces to submit more biometric information such as fingerprints of known terrorists, given how increasingly vital they are in pinpointing terrorists’ movements across borders.

Interpol, which has its headquarters in Lyon, shares information across 190 police forces which are its members, out of which 52 share information via its database on foreign terrorist fighters.

Ms Shirani de Fontgalland, Interpol’s Singapore-based capacity building programme coordinator for its counter-terrorism directorate, said at the conference that since June 2014, an estimated 850 to 1,250 new militants have travelled every month to conflict zones overseas. Interpol has a database of 15,000 of these foreign fighters, but has biometric information on only fewer than 10 per cent of them.