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“Gaps” in Japan’s counterterrorism measures

  • 2016-01-14 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: January 14, 2016 – p. 2)


 Among terrorist incidents in which firearms were used, the tragedy in Paris last November caused an unprecedented number of casualties. Following the incident, some gaps in Europe’s counterterrorism measures have been revealed. Japan is getting ready to host a slew of important events, including the Ise-Shima Summit this May, so the international community is taking a close look at Japan’s counterterrorism measures.


 “Although Europe has made it easier for people to travel within the region, security and intelligence agencies work separately and rarely cooperate with each other,” said an official affiliated with the European Police Office (Europol), which conducts coordination among eurozone nations’ police forces. Each police force keeps important terrorism information to itself and is reluctant to share with other countries’ police.


 One of the keys to preventing major terrorist incidents is to detect the flow of money related to terrorism such as weapons transactions, which can prompt authorities to initiate an investigation. Hokkaido University Professor Kazuto Suzuki studies the connection between arms proliferation and funding. He said, “The U.S. government has the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), which monitors the flow of terrorists’ funding within the dollar economic zone, but there is no such watchdog within the eurozone.” The terrorists in Paris cleverly took advantage of various advantages of the EU such as free movement across borders and currency distribution.


 Advantages of island nations


 Circumstances differ in island nations such as the UK. “We have prevented seven terrorist incidents before they happened in the UK,” disclosed UK Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens last fall. According to the Ambassador, about 400 British citizens who had joined the “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria have reportedly returned to the UK during the last year, but no major terrorist incidents have taken place there.


 The UK has the Security Service (known as MI5), and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). While MI5 investigates foreign spies, GCHQ is in charge of monitoring communications. MI5, GCHQ, and the UK police work closely to detect and arrest terrorists. Since the UK is not part of the EU, the country can independently monitor terrorism funding as well.


 Japan is also an island country. Preventing the smuggling of firearms into the country is easier than in other countries. Monitoring the flow of money is also easier because Japan has set up its own yen currency zone. In this sense, Japan is similar to the UK.


 Despite such circumstances, an ordinary Japanese citizen attempted to blow up a private railway in 2007. The suspect made a high-performance explosive bomb using the same substance that was used in the Paris terrorist attacks, triacetone triperoxide (TATP). Although the police and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) need cooperate closely, they seem to remain at odds and this is a cause of concern.


 There are three stages of counterterrorism measures. The first stage is to reduce the number of people who feel dissatisfied or alienated from society. The second stage is to detect and deter potential terrorists from taking action. The third stage is to neutralize situations in which terrorist attacks have already occurred.


 “In preparation for unforeseen events, we should conduct drills based on more diverse scenarios,” said Professor Naofumi Miyasaka, a terrorism expert at the National Defense Academy. The professor places priority on the third stage.


 On Nov. 19 of last year, shortly after the terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, the Cabinet Secretariat conducted a new type of counterterrorism drill in Asahikawa City, Hokkaido, with the participation of 1,000 people.


 The Cabinet Secretariat purposefully selected an area with a cold climate to conduct the drill under severe conditions, which was not the case for past drills. The organizer also deliberately changed the scenario without prior notice during the drill to identify vulnerabilities.


 Japan will host the G7 summit this May, the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. These events will be targets for terrorism. “Prior to the 2012 London Olympics, security agencies in the UK enhanced their cooperation for counterterrorism,” recalled a UK government official. While these major events will pose challenges for Japan, they will also be good opportunities to review Japan’s counterterrorism measures. (Abridged)

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