The latest appalling news from Baghdad that at least forty people have been killed by a female suicide bomber is a timely reminder that simple profiling will never be enough to combat determined terrorists.

The idea that by stopping and searching all young Asian males that you would significantly reduce the risk of suicide bombing is a fallacy.  As this news reminds us, not all such bombers are males.  Richard Reid, the convicted shoe bomber, was not Asian and was a convert to Islam.  And, of course, not all Asians are Muslims, nor are all Muslims Asian.  And most important of all, the vast majority of Muslims are not violent extremists and are not potential terrorists.

Crude profiling will not only be ineffective, but it will increasingly alienate precisely those people that the authorities need to be working with if they are to be effective in combatting terrorism.

In the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, the most senior counter-terrorist police officer in the UK, made the case for profiling.  But – and it is a big but – he was NOT arguing for crude profiling.  He was arguing for “intelligent” profiling.  And, yes, this does involve stopping people based on appearance and behaviour, but it is also about ” using “common sense” and “street-craft” to recognise suspicious behaviour.”

The Telegraph report goes on (mainly focussing on stops at airports):

“Mr Yates called for searches to be carried out using intelligence databases, and “sharp thinking” on the ground.

He said that suspicions should be aroused by an individual’s personal history and pattern of travel, how they bought their ticket, and their luggage.

The anti-terrorism chief continued: “At the same time, we must encourage police and security staff to use their experience, their street-craft – their ‘nous’. This means considering a range of factors – dress, body language, behaviour or simply something that’s ‘not quite right’.

“This puts the onus on our staff to be intelligent and to act with common sense.””

This is an approach that most people would support and it is right that this is the ethos now being promoted by the Metropolitan Police.  For it to work, of course, there also needs to be a rigorous system of management supervision and external scrutiny to make sure that the policy is not abused or mis-applied.

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