Vigilance ups suspicious package alerts

Dubai police have been receiving more reports of suspicious packages this year due to what they say is increased vigilance by the public

Major General Mohammed al Mansouri, the head of the General Department of Organisation, Protective Security and Emergency, said the police treat every report of a suspicious package as an emergency. Pawan Singh / The National
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Dubai // The reporting of suspicious packages is on the increase because people have become more vigilant, police say.

One example took place last month when Dubai Police received an alert about a suspicious bag left in the World Trade Centre. Explosive detection experts were sent to the scene. The bag proved to be harmless and someone had just forgotten it, police said.

"People have started to be suspicious of anything in the last years and reports on suspicious packages are increasing," said Major General Mohammed al Mansouri, the director of the General Department of Organisation, Protective Security and Emergency at Dubai Police.

"People are more vigilant and fearful due to the increased focus on terrorism globally and especially in our region."

Police were not willing to reveal how many reports they received every month, but said last month's false alarm at the World Trade Centre was "one of many".

Lt Col Khalil al Bishiri, the head of the explosive department, which falls under the protective security and emergency department, said much of their work was secretive and carried out behind closed doors. He said that revealing the way they operated would alter the emirate's security.

However, part of his department's work included ensuring all events in Dubai were safe and free of any explosive items. The day before any big event, explosive detection experts are sent to scan the venue and any person who enters the venue is checked to ensure no explosives are brought in.

The General Department of Organisation, Protective Security and Emergency spent about Dh9 million on equipment and training last year. The department also places an emphasis on investing in technology and training to develop skills so they can better detect threats.

According to Maj Gen al Mansouri, officials were also continuously developing security plans in accordance with the security situations, not only inside the country but regionally and globally.

Police said that the steps taken were precautionary preventive measures and Dubai was not considered at high risk for any terrorism activity.

Dr Mustafa Alani is a senior adviser and director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai. He believed the fear of a possible terrorist attack was legitimate when put into a regional context.

"With bombs exploding in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, the threat is real and not imagined, especially with Dubai being such an open tourism city," he said.

Dr Alani said even false reports should be considered a bonus for security forces because they showed the whole of society had "eyes and ears".

"This sort of help from the public should be appreciated and each report should be treated with consideration as it could eventually lead to the prevention of a real bomb attack," he said.

Maj Gen al Mansouri said Dubai Police treated every alert as an emergency.

"We examine many packages and almost every single one proves to be harmless, but we still take all reports seriously," he said.

"We have to operate with a mindset that nothing is normal despite having things going normally.

"The only incident that proved serious last year was the explosives we detected in a printer on board the UPS flight en route to the United States."

Two highly explosive substances, PETN and lead azide, which were "professionally loaded" into the printer's toner cartridge, were found and successfully disposed of in October. A similar package was found in the UK at the same time.

"We had to look for the explosive manually and we also informed the British authorities about where to look for the explosives," said Maj Gen al Mansouri.