Christmas holiday travel: ‘Blood on our hands’ if attacked

Written by By Anastasia Lin, CNN

According to international security experts, Christmas is likely to see some of the biggest security challenges of 2017.

Though attacks are rare in the UK over the Christmas period, recent incidents in Berlin and London, have had security chiefs worried, according to Ciaran Martin, Chief Constable of the British Transport Police.

“I think we are likely to see a significant rise in terms of incidents and for that reason, on the commercial side, people need to remain vigilant,” Martin told CNN last week.

“And particularly people shopping locally at shopping centers and malls, the Christmas period is a time when people will be spending heavily and there is likely to be quite a lot of shopping taking place, so they should be prepared for that.”

While holiday shopping may be considered a safe time to be out and about, experts say increased security measures are needed to protect shoppers.

‘Blood on our hands’

In November, an explosion ripped through a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring at least 48.

The cause of the explosion has not yet been determined.

A spokesperson for the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) told CNN the event was under “a full investigation.”

According to Martin, the attack in Berlin was “clearly inspired by ISIS.”

“I think the police service in Germany handled that episode very well but the reality is they will have no choice but to do more,” Martin added.

And while Brussels and Paris remain on high alert, terrorism experts say that terrorists may have found new ways to exploit the Christmas period.

Because of the coming Christmas and New Year holidays, there are likely to be more people looking to strike during the holidays than at any other time of year.

“I think they may take a little bit of inspiration from the bombing of the Christmas market in Berlin and think ‘how do we get more of this in different parts of the UK?’” said Simon Coveney, Head of National Terrorism Extremism and Policing Coordination at the Home Office.

Coveney went on to say that more people are likely to want to carry out “a well-planned and carefully executed attack.”

“This time of year and around Christmas you have a greater number of people going out and shopping, there are people traveling to holiday destinations, there are lots of events happening and so it poses an increased risk,” Coveney added.

Coveney said the use of shopping centres and malls as a venue for attacks is likely to grow, as is the number of known and missed high-profile targets

According to threats intelligence analyst Humera Shafiq, terrorists had found better ways to exploit the period.

“As social media becomes more of a vehicle for recruiting people, the ability of terrorists to plan different events at different times, and as their lethality gains ground, I think people are more encouraged to watch and look out for things that may be subtle or not directly connected to a terrorist organization, but they’ve been able to infiltrate those events and inspire others to do so.”

Shafiq said the attacks of December 13, 2015 in Paris and Brussels were just the beginning of the changing terrorist landscape.

“I think the events that we’ve seen the last couple of years, attacks in France and in Brussels, have absolutely emboldened and started the rise of those who are determined to harm others.”

Preventing attack

In the UK, police forces are set to be active at shopping centers, malls and railway stations this holiday season, according to Martin.

“If I were an individual going into those areas for whatever reason over the Christmas period I would need to be absolutely vigilant,” he said.

“People need to make sure that the clothing they’re wearing, the bags they’re carrying, is precisely the kind of bag we would want to be carrying in an emergency.”

On December 13, the British authorities will have a heightened presence at the Palace of Westminster and other notable public buildings in London as part of their plans to counter terrorism.

Experts say regular travelers will need to be extra cautious throughout the holiday season.

“The last thing that people should think about at home is being afraid of where they’re going out for the day, but those who are just going out and about do need to be mindful of what they carry.”

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