Australian police have charged a man after he opened fire at Canberra Airport on August 14. The 63-year-old New South Wales man has been named by Australian media reporting on the case as Ali Rachid Ammoun.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Policing alleges that the man arrived at Canberra Airport on August 14 at approximately 1.20pm before sitting on seats near the southern check-in desks on the first floor. At about 1.25pm he drew a firearm and deployed a number of shots into windows of the building.
Emergency calls were placed by the public, and Australian Federal Police (AFP) Airport Police who are stationed within the airport terminal apprehended the man. Nobody was injured during the incident.
Canberra Airport was evacuated and members of ACT Policing and AFP Airport Police worked in partnership to secure the area – including confirming the man was acting alone. He was transported to the ACT Watch House and an investigation commenced. During the evacuation there were aircraft with passengers that remained on the airfield. Canberra Airport returned to normal operations at about 5.00pm, with flights resuming shortly afterwards.
The man appeared at the ACT Magistrates Court today where bail was not requested. He will remain in custody and the case will return to court on September 5. Police have not yet spoken about any motive for the shooting. He has been charged with discharging a firearm at a building, unlawful possession of a firearm and discharging a firearm near a person causing alarm.
Australia has strict gun laws and public shooting incidents such as this are rare. Early indications suggest that the shooter was in the public area of the building and had not passed through security.
This does again raise questions over the security of airport terminals before passenger screening. Only last month, a woman opened fire in the check-in and ticketing area at Dallas Love Field Airport. And in 2017, five people were killed after an active shooter incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. In this instance, a man had traveled with a firearm in his checked luggage, as is permitted, but then retrieved the gun when collecting his bag and loaded it while in the bathrooms in the baggage reclaim area. A bombing at Brussels airport in 2016, which was part of a coordinated terrorist attack, put the safety of airport terminals, pre-security, firmly in the spotlight, but there have been no sweeping changes since for a number of reasons.
Not all airports have detectors present at terminal entrances, with most still being confined to passenger screening areas for ticketed travelers. Installing checkpoints at the entrances to the buildings would increase security but would also be costly and impractical due to lengthy lines of people wanting to access the terminal, as well as obstructing those leaving and re-entering. The risk then would be that those who intend to cause harm would do so in front of the terminal, or in the car park, or on the road outside. Moving the checkpoint would only move the soft target to another area.
Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport is one that uses multi-layered security inside and outside the terminal and years of refinement has made it efficient, so the potential is there but it is not easy, nor does it serve as a guarantee against any attack. Ben Gurion’s security is provided by a combination of police officers, border police soldiers, and airport security guards, which together leads to constant surveillance of the airport. For travelers arriving at the airport, all vehicles must pass through security when arriving. Armed guards search the vehicle and complete a short interview of the driver and occupants. More thorough checks include scanning the undercarriage of vehicles or additional questioning. While Ben Gurion Airport has refined the process it still takes a little time and is a costly operation. It also does not solve the problem of travelers accessing weapons after arrival as was the case at Fort Lauderdale.
The Canberra Airport attack will reignite the debate on terminal security. It is not an area that security professionals are ignoring, but it is a difficult problem to solve without merely moving the risk to a new location.