With reporting from Riham Sheble
Qatar’s Ministry of Interior has announced the rollout of a new security vehicle at Hamad International Airport to help more readily identify any weapons, drugs and explosives carried by travelers.
In a statement, MOI said that the technology, which has been patented by the ministry and the nation’s Internal Security Forces (Lekwhiya), is the first of its kind in the Middle East.
Brig. Essa Arrar Al Rumaihi, director of the airport security department, called HIA “one of the most important civilizational fronts of the country,” as it is a traveler’s first and last impression of Qatar.
“This is why securing the airport is of extreme import, which has merited the attention and efforts of MOI and Lekhwiya,” he said.
The cost of the new technology was not mentioned. It has been installed in what appears to be a golf cart that is tasked with covering some 30sqkm of the airport.
The move comes as airport security is being beefed up around the world due to ongoing political conflicts.
Just last month, the US asked international airports that fly directly to the states to increase screening efforts, over fears that al Qaeda operatives in Syria or Yemen would smuggle bombs onto planes heading to America.
The vehicle’s equipment is capable of specifying the location of hazardous or illicit materials inside the bag of a passenger, and also if the person is carrying anything hazardous inside of their clothes or their bodies, the statement said.
This is done through x-ray technology that causes different colors to appear on the cart’s device monitors.
These devices then send wireless signals to the control room inside the airport, and enable inspectors inside the vehicle to see what is happening while remaining a safe distance from the site in case a dangerous body is detected. The entire scanning process takes about 10 seconds.
It is unclear what type of scans are being conducted on travelers, and no mention of privacy was made in MOI’s statement.
In the past, efforts by other nations to increase airport security with new technology has been met with a backlash from citizens concerned about the invasiveness of x-ray scans that could depict their nude form.
Officers inside the cart can also assess passengers’ identities through portable fingerprint and document scanners, which can examine passports and boarding cards to assist passengers who are late to their gates – or determine if passengers tickets’ are forged or if they are in a part of the airport where they should not be, the statement said.
The vehicle, which runs on solar energy, can cross-check any information gleaned with government databases in Qatar international security organizations like Interpol.
Cameras are also affixed on the vehicle that can scan in all directions.
The new technology is also expected to be able to detect hazardous materials (such as explosives, illegal drugs, toxic chemicals, radioactive materials, weapons and other sharp objects).
If the trial vehicle is successful, more may be produced for use at the airport, and possibly other venues, such as sports stadiums and the Qatar-Saudi border.
Also this week, the Supreme Council of Health sought to calm fears about the the spread of Ebola by saying thermal detectors are being used at HIA to scan arriving passengers from countries hit by the deadly virus.
The cameras monitor body temperature as a way of identifying travelers who are sick with fever. This would enable airport staff to monitor and identify anyone who may potentially be infected.
No cases of Ebola have been found in Qatar to date. The SCH has warned residents against traveling to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria until further notice, but national carrier Qatar Airways continues to fly to West Africa without interruption.
On Tuesday, the airline issued a statement that said:
“We would like to reassure you that we are monitoring the situation very closely and are in contact with both local and international health and aviation organisations to ensure that all necessary and appropriate measures are in place to protect our passengers, our staff and the general public.
Qatar Airways, in line with international recommendations, advises passengers to avoid non-essential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.”