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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK
El Al sets security standards
Security agent at Los Angeles airport
Airports were on alert for potential 4 July attacks
Israeli security experts say that Thursday's attack at Los Angeles airport should serve as a wake-up call to airport officials to re-examine their security procedures.

Issy Boim president of consulting company Air Security International in Houston told BBC News Online he believes that swift action by El Al agents averted a major disaster.


El Al's security agents are trained to identify a threat, respond to it quickly and accurately and neutralise it

Issy Boim, president of Air Security International

"If the attacker had targeted another carrier it could have been a very, very sad 4 July," Mr Boim said.

"El Al's security agents are trained to identify a threat, respond to it quickly and accurately and neutralise it," he said.

Security

El Al is renowned for its strict security procedures. It has armed guards at every ticket counter - many of whom are former Israeli soldiers.

El Al attacks
1968 flight from Rome hijacked
1970 hijack thwarted in mid air
1986 thwarted attempt to put a bomb on board a plane
1972 Japanese Red Army faction members opened fire at Tel Aviv airport
1985 Palestinians attacked El Al check in counters in Rome and Vienna killing 18
It also has undercover agents on every plane and armed guards at every ticket counter. Aircrafts' cockpits are protected with double doors.

Isaac Yeffet, the former director of general security for the El Al, told broadcaster MSNBC that the security guard acted appropriately by fatally shooting the gunman.

"Security surrounds the passengers in different positions to make sure that if a terrorist is coming to open fire he will be killed immediately. This is what happened," he said.

He noted that two previous attempts by would-be attackers at Paris and Brussels airports were contained "after 30 seconds" by El Al security.

Passenger profiling

"If he comes to kill he has to be killed immediately," he said.

Israelis with military or security experience are becoming increasingly popular with US Government agencies looking to beef-up their anti-terror measures.

Mr Boim - a former agent for the Israeli security service Shin Bet - says that El Al's rigorous security procedures rely heavily on human intelligence.

Policeman stands in front of an El Al plane
El Al has the most rigorous security procedures in the world
The difference between the Israeli and the American systems, he explains, is that the Israelis are looking for the terror suspect, while the Americans are looking for weapons.

At Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, passengers - in particular non-Israelis - are interrogated at length by highly-trained screeners while plain-clothes security officials watch for suspicious behaviour.

Outside Israel, travellers experience thorough searches of their luggage, including not just repeated X-rays but also swabs to test for explosives and lengthy questioning.

But some passengers have reported that these measures are discriminatory and sometimes unpleasant, with Palestinians and their friends subjected to much stricter procedures, including body searches.

El Al uses rigorous computerised passenger profiling systems, which apparently looks for anomalies in a traveller's itinerary, finances and personal profile.

Previous attacks

Such profiling is problematic under the laws of some countries, such as the US.

But Israeli security experts argue that such profiling has helped thwart potential attacks.

They point to an attempt in 1986 by a Jordanian to send his Irish girlfriend on to an El Al flight with a bomb concealed in her hand luggage without her knowledge.

Airports are looking at ways of improving security
Airports are looking at ways of improving security
The woman, Anne-Marie Murphy, was preparing to board an Israel-bound flight at London's Heathrow airport, when she was quizzed by a ticket agent trained to screen passengers.

Since the agent thought her story didn't add up, screeners re-examined her baggage, which an X-ray had cleared and found seven pounds of explosives in the lining.

El Al's security precautions were developed in the 1960 and early 1970s when the airline became the target of attacks and hijackings.

The only successful hijacking of an El Al plane was in 1968 when a flight from Rome was hijacked by members of the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and forced to land in Algiers.

One of the most famous examples of an attempted hijack was in 1970, when highjackers tried to storm the cockpit.

The El Al pilot sent the aircraft into a nosedive, creating zero gravity, which knocked the hijackers off their feet.

They were then overpowered by security agents.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Airport security
What more needs to be done to tighten it up?
See also:

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