“Robust security measures are in place at stations and on trains, and we have increased our patrols along the tracks,” adding that the TSA had partnered with federal agencies to gather and share intelligence.”
US rail operators should “exercise due caution with equipment and materials that could be used to obstruct or derail trains” and should remind their employees of the importance of being aware of potential terrorist threats. That’s the view of the US Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), which has issued a series of alerts to transit, passenger and freight rail operators following the publication of Inspire, Al-Qaeda’s latest magazine that gives detailed step-by-step instructions how to make train derailment devices.
The TSA, the body set up following the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks, has taken the step of advising operators to “protect their systems from being targeted by violent extremists”, after information detailed in the 17th edition of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)-produced magazine highlighted the apparent ease with which it would be to target the US rail network.
Agency spokesperson, Marc Magliari, said it had already instigated checks to prevent any attacks. “Robust security measures are in place at stations and on trains, and we have increased our patrols along the tracks,” adding that the TSA had partnered with federal agencies to gather and share intelligence.”
However, despite the efforts made by Al-Qaeda to encourage its followers to wreak havoc on the US rail network, the TSA and Metra (the community network in Chicago where Inspire focuses much of its attention) said there are “no specific or credible threats”.
Al-Qaeda has carried out attacks on trains before, notably Madrid (2004) and London (2005), but the detailed plans in Insight indicate a shift that would put the US’s 100,000-mile US network in its future plans. Signed by 'AQ Chef' (a moniker used in previous Inspire issues covering bomb making) the 18-page document that comes as part of 97-page magazine, states that the targeting of trains was particularly suitable owing to a lack of security protocols. Most of the country’s rail network, including subways, are subject to only random checks from security or police.
A factor that perhaps gives the US authorities the most cause for alarm is the simplicity with which the train derailment devices can allegedly be constructed. According to AQAP, the crude device is “easy to hide from forensics” and should be installed around “10 minutes before the train passes” to evade the regular rail inspections carried out on the network.
In the UK, the approach advised by Chris Stevens, former counter terrorism security advisor for the British Transport Police, focuses attention on particular sections of the network.
Writing in Counter Terror Business, Stevens said although it was not an exhaustive list, consideration should be given to: “essential equipment facilities – such as power supply and signalling; key track aspects – such as important points locations, tunnels and portals; route operation rooms; and station control rooms”.
Offering his view on what could potentiall minimise casualties in the event of an attack, Stevens said glazing and heavy overhead equipment should be adequately secured, with appropriate design of seating, luggage racks and handrails that does not cause further harm. He also outlined his strong advocacy for airline-style procedures that searched passengers, though conceded it would be difficult to deliver and enforce.
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