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Japan gov't rushes to strengthen anti-terror measures after Nice attack

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, second from left, speaks at the start of a meeting of the government's international anti-terrorism promotion headquarters, at the prime minister's office on July 11, 2016. (Mainichi)

Following the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice, southern France where a truck plowed into a crowd and killed scores of people, and with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics coming up in 2020, the Japanese government is rushing to strengthen measures to prevent terrorist attacks against so-called "soft targets."

    At a July 15 press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said of Japan's domestic counter-terrorism measures, "We are preparing beefed up security measures, particularly for attacks against important facilities or soft targets."

    Soft targets include places like restaurants, theaters and department stores, which have increasingly become terror targets. During the G-7 Ise-Shima Summit in Mie Prefecture, Japan boosted security in densely populated Tokyo and other urban areas to guard against such soft target attacks, despite the cities' distance from the rural summit site.

    As recently as July 1, terrorists attacked a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh, took hostages and killed 20 customers including seven Japanese nationals. The movement of people into and out of soft targets like this is difficult to keep track of, and their vulnerability to terrorism has posed a problem.

    The Japanese government has planned counterterrorism measures for soft targets since the April 2013 Boston bombing, training facility managers, people in the railway business and others on how to boost their security, and encouraging the installation of more security cameras. However, since these facilities generally handle their own security, the effect of these government measures is limited. The most effective anti-terrorism measure is checking the belongings of people who enter a soft target area, but cost and concerns over visitor convenience make implementing such searches difficult.

    Due to these limitations, the government is instead prioritizing preventing terrorists from getting into the country. At a meeting on anti-crime measures with Cabinet ministers on July 12, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a speed up of the introduction of body scanners at airport security checkpoints and the use of an identification system to check travelers entering Japan with a database of photographs to weed out threats.

    Furthermore, the government's international anti-terrorism promotion headquarters chaired by Suga finalized a broad list of measures on July 11 and announced that the government's international terrorism information gathering unit will be strengthened as early as this fiscal year.

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