Czech police to boost protection at “soft” terrorism targets

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Measures to better protect so-called soft targets against terrorism are being rushed into place in the Czech Republic after the wave of recent attacks in Europe suggest targets have shifted from big headline events and locations to sites where many people gather or where attackers believe they can make a point.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
The Czech Republic introduced a zero to four ranking of the terror threat to the country in January. Ever since the attacks in Brussels back in March, the alarm has stayed at level one, increased vigilance and basic security precautions. But the response to terrorism is evolving along with the perceived threat.

In the wake of recent attacks, mostly in Germany and France, which have taken place at such diverse locations as a shopping centre, near a music festival, and in a church, Czech authorities are now moving to step up and widen security measures. The focus now is beyond the traditional locations where security is boosted at the first hint of an attack, such as main airports, railway stations, or nuclear plants.

The lesson from the recent spate of attacks is that almost anywhere where many people congregate can be a tempting target, such as cultural and sporting events and tourist locations. In response, police will now seek to work closer with events organisers, giving them advice on the security steps they can take, and there will also be much closer cooperation with the operators of major shopping centres and hypermarkets on the specific steps they can introduce. A police telephone advice and help line will be up and running from the start of September.

Milan Chovanec, photo: Filip Jandourek
Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec outlined the evolving response:

“We had been prepared to launch this project from January 1 next year. The national security audit had been dealing with the issue of soft targets. Given what is happening in Europe now, we have had to speed this up because the situation around us is very dynamic. It means in effect a degree of technical and on the ground support. It will mean some training of the staff who normally ensure security at shopping centres. It will involve some level of agreement between the Czech Police and the owners of such centres over support and cooperation in the same way that has been going on for many years between the police and owners of football clubs.”

Some inspiration for the Czech steps has been drawn from anti-terrorist precautions in Israel and the United States.

As well as events and shopping centres, schools, hospitals, and religious sites should also be regarded as the sort of soft targets which should merit extra attention and security precautions.

Photo: CTK
The minister added that extra staff and financing should be focused on the specialist police task force tasked with countering terrorism and that he would be meeting with police chiefs at the start of August with a view to what extra measures can be taken in the current context of attacks in Europe. While other priorities, such as fighting organized crime and corruption remain, the minister stressed that countering terrorism is now clearly at the top of the agenda.