Multinational police network Atlas conducts 7 counter-terror exercises across Europe

Exercises coincide with signing of agreement for permanent Atlas office in Europol headquarters

Counter-terrorism police staged exercises across Europe this week to mark a cooperation deal between the European Union’s police agency and a network of national special intervention teams.

Europol said the agreement, signed on Wednesday, October 10 with the Atlas Network aimed to increase the “safety of all European citizens” after a wave of terror incidents in Europe in recent years.

The Atlas association, which consists of 38 special intervention units from the 28 E.U. member states plus others from Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, was informally established in 2001 as an initiative of the Police Chiefs Task Force after the September 11 attacks in the United States. It was originally established to enable information exchange and co-operative training between units.

It was formalized by 2008 E.U. Council Decision which sets out rules to allow SIUs from one member state to operate on the territory of another in order to deal with a “crisis situation.”

The deal for “enhanced cooperation” will see a permanent Atlas Support Office attached to the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague.

“As the European Union faces increasing threats from organised crime groups and terrorist attacks inspired by religious, left- and right-wing ideologies, an effective law enforcement response must include the availability of well-trained and E.U.-wide interoperable special intervention units,” Europol said.

“We see an increase of organized crime in Europe and we see also the threat of terrorism. So we have to give all the time a very efficient law enforcement answer, we have to test it,” AFP quoted Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle as saying.

“One important element we are pleased to see is the facilitation of cross-border deployment of Special Intervention Units,” De Bolle said. “Europol is also committed to supporting Atlas with the development of ambitious projects for the future, including the establishment of joint training activities and the pooling of resources.”

Herbert Kickl, Austria’s Minister of the Interior of Austria said the agreement “is an important step in the E.U.”

“In a crisis situation, special intervention units must be able to support each other across borders,” Kickl added.

To mark the signing, SIU personnel set off stun grenades during a live demonstration of a tactical assault outside Europol headquarters in The Hague.

The exercise at Europol headquarters took place just a few hundred meters from where Dutch security forces said they had caught four Russian spies trying to hack the nearby seat of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog.

Atlas in Europol
The Atlas Communication and Coordination Centre at Europol ahead of the Atlas common challenge counter terrorism exercises which took place across Europe between October 9 and 11, 2018. Image: @europol/Twitter

Atlas common challenge counter terrorism exercises

The signing of the agreement coincided with the ATLAS common challenge, consisting of counter-terrorism exercises in seven European regions taking place between October 8 and 11.

Europol said the exercise “aims to test the effective operational readiness of European special intervention units as regards cross-border operations,” and to “gather information on warning systems and assistance procedures when tested under real-life circumstances.”

During the exercise, a central information and coordination hub was installed at Europol headquarters, and officers from the regional units and members of the Atlas Command and Control Forum supported coordination of the regional operations.

Maritime scenario – hostage situation

Special intervention units from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland trained for a hostage situation on a vessel on the Baltic Sea, focusing on coordinating assault forces in boats and helicopters.

Aircraft scenario – hijacking

Special intervention units from Spain, France, Belgium, Italy and Portugal trained to deal with the hijacking of a wide-body aircraft at Teruel airport in Spain, which is usually used for aircraft maintenance and storage. Mechanical door opening and breaching methods were tested.

Metro scenario – hostages on a train

Special intervention units from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia tried to free and evacuate 500 hostages from a metro train in Warsaw.

Mass hostage scenario

A situation similar to that during the 2015 Paris attacks was re-enacted in the historical Slovakian town Komárno. Special intervention units from Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia trained in reacting to highly mobile offenders, the coordination of many units, and the use of armored or special vehicles.

Land/sea scenario

Special intervention units from Iceland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and England assaulted raided a mock “terrorist ship” heading for Northern Ireland in Icelandic waters.

Train and CBRN scenario

A passenger train has been taken over by terrorists in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. In the course of negotiations the units gain information that a dirty bomb could be used. During negotiations, special intervention units from Germany, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland and Italy learn that a dirty bomb is a possibility, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialists must be brought in.

Bus hijacking scenario

In this scenario, a coach was hijacked in northern Greece and tracked to Bucharest. To prevent it entering Ukraine, special intervention units from Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania assault what has become two hijacked coaches.

With reporting from AFP

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