Almost 100 people suspected of terrorism or having become radicalised intercepted after they had booked flights

So far this year 94 people that were either suspected of involvement in terrorist activity or of having become radicalised have been intercepted thanks to the authorities being able to analyse passenger data from those that have booked flights via Belgian airports. The figures come from the Passenger Information Unit that was set up by the Crisis Centre at the start of last year. They form the basis for an article that appears in Saturday’s edition of the daily ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’. Currently around 70% of all data concerning passengers flying via our country’s airports is analysed by the unit. At some point in the future those making international coach and rail journeys will be subject to the same scrutiny. 

If you book a flight there is a 70% chance that your name, address and other personal data will be passed on to the Passenger Information Unit.

The Unit’s Director Gunter Ceupens told VRT News that "We receive the data 48 hours before the person is due to leave. This gives us time to carry out a number of preparatory measures. The data is cross-checked against a list of people that are being sought. If this process produces a hit further analysis is carried out within the unit. In turn this is given to those that carry out checks on passengers at the specific airport”.   

The Passengers Information Unit employs a total of 40 staff. They are experts in the field that have been drawn from the police, the customs, the State Security Service and Military Intelligence. Since the unit was set up it has analyses more than 26 million sets of personal data. This equates to 70% of all air passengers travelling to or from Belgian airports or those that transit via one of our country’s airports.

The figure of 70% now is well up on 33% that were checked this time last year.

The Interior Minister Pieter De Crem (Flemish Christian democrat) told VRT News that the aim is that time 100% of airline passengers will be checked and that the system will be extended to cover international bus and train passengers.

Mr De Crem assures travellers that the data is only passed on though secure channels and Mr Ceupens adds that a number of mechanisms are built into the system to ensure personal privacy.

The system only flags up those suspected of involvement in serious crime such as terrorism, human trafficking and the abduction of children. Once a suspect is detected the information is passed on to the police. The police then look at how the person in question can be best detained. Most suspects are detained at home. Suspects being detained at the last minute at the airport is a rarity.

Of those intercepted so far this year. 94 were suspected of terrorism related offences or having become radicalised. 120 people were detained in connection with human trafficking. The unit has also been successful in prevent a 7 parents from taking their child abroad without the consent of his/her other parent in a so-called “parental kidnapping”.