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Missing terror

Global Times (2014-03-12 P06)
By Liang Chen

Passengers have their luggage and handbags checked in a subway station in Shanghai. Photo: CFP

"You have hundreds of different ways to hop on the subway without going through a security check," Wang Hai (pseudonym), a Beijing resident who works at an IT company, told the Global Times, complaining about the loose security inspections at the subway stations.

"Gossiping with the security staff when you walk by the security inspection machine to divert their attention, or hiding illegal items, such as knives, alcohol or lighters, in your overcoat will work."

Wang found that several times, when he forgot to remove a lighter or knife from his luggage, it wasn't spotted at the X-ray security station.

His is not a rare complaint. After the terrorist attack in the Kunming railway station, Southwest China's Yunan Province, on March 1, along with the increased security for Beijing's "Two Sessions" from March 3 to Thursday, the central and local authorities have reinforced inspections in densely-populated areas, especially on railway stations, bus stations, subway stations and airports.

However, a series of incidents of illegal substances being brought along onto the subways have exposed loopholes in the security system.

In Shanghai, passengers have been reported carrying caged livestock, hammers and knives when they boarded the subway.

In Hangzhou, a journalist from the Youth Times reported that although almost all the stations are equipped with the X-ray security inspection machines and at least two security staff, they failed to detect illegal substances, including bottled spirits, a 15-centimeter-long knife and a lighter, in the journalist's bag.

According to rules and regulations, it is forbidden to carry inflammable and explosive goods into public places or on public transport.

In an ongoing poll conducted by since February, over 83 percent of 870 participants believe the security checks have played little effect on ensuring the public safety, while 13 percent insist the local authorities should increase inspections of dangerous items and substances.

Tightened security

The attack in Kunming, which killed at least 29 people and left 143 others wounded, has shocked the nation and alerted the central and local authorities.

In response, almost all the transportation hubs across the nation have reinforced security checks to prevent the occurrence of similar attacks.

A lot of specific measures, including increasing the presence of police and deploying armed police, have been adopted in the key areas.

Beijing added body frisking before the platform at three more subway stations. In Xi'an, local authorities set up nail strips to prevent terrorists from thrusting themselves into the city. Police in many cities are conducting more checks of ID cards.

"Considering that subway stations have always been a major target for terrorists, it is necessary to upgrade the level of security inspections in these key areas. The presence of the policemen would definitely act as a deterrent to the terrorists," Wang Dawei, a professor of public security from Chinese People's Public Security University, told the Global Times.

However, the security inspections in some other transportation hubs remain weak, Wang noted.


Kunming officials admitted that they had weak points in their security work. Reports said there was almost no security staff in the square and the ticket office of Kunming railway stations. 

"Terrorists are inclined to choose densely-populated areas with loosened security measures to organize attack. So, especially for cities in southwestern regions where the security is comparatively loosen, local authorities have to be highly alert," Yin Zhuo, director of the Expert Consultation Committee of the PLA Navy, said.

Existing evacuation and protection mechanisms should be implemented when terrorist attacks occur, Yin noted.

Even though the rules are strict, the effectiveness of the security inspection  largely depends on the conduct of the security staff.

"The large flow of passengers has made it difficult to forcibly enforce the inspections strictly. We have to ensure the quick and efficient flow of people when they pass through the security check, especially at rush hour," the director of Beijing's Dawanglu subway station, surnamed Lü, said.

"We had only two weeks training before we started work. But considering the heavy workload, it is difficult for me to stay highly alert at every second," Wang Juan (pseudonym), a security officer at Beijing's Sihui subway station, told the Global Times.

"I have to fix my eyes on the computer screen for hours to spot whether there are illegal objects in the luggage. It is unavoidable that I might miss some of the illegal substances."

Currently, most subway stations conduct no body frisking, leaving a loophole for carrying dangerous objects in jackets.

Global Times reporters have witnessed that in many subway stations in Beijing, security staff do not even try to obstruct passengers who refused to put their bags or luggage through the X-ray.

Tougher enforcement

According to regulations, anyone who refuses to cooperate with security check work will be dealt with by the police. Severe cases can be put into custody.

Last week, a female passenger who refused to accept a security inspection in Guomao subway station, Beijing, was put at custody.

Beijing has conducted the strictest security inspection work since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, which required luggage, no matter what size, to be checked through the X-ray inspection machine. Passengers have to take a sip in front of security guards if they carry bottled water.

Experts called on the central and local authorities to carry out stricter body frisking and extra checks of hand baggage to improve security.

"The central and local authorities should arrange evacuation drills to improve people's ability to protect themselves if a terrorist attack took place, in order to prevent tragedy," Wang Dawei  told the Global Times.

There are worries that even if security is tightened at transport hubs, terrorists will simply target other locations. "In densely populated areas, we can't just rely on inspections. We need active and comprehensive counter-terrorism measures," said Wang, adding that international cooperation was also needed.
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