Few adopt new US security measures

Little changes at European airports

Armed police officers maintained a presence at London’s Heathrow Airport Terminal 1 yesterday. Armed police officers maintained a presence at London’s Heathrow Airport Terminal 1 yesterday. (Associated Press)
By Gregory Katz
Associated Press / January 5, 2010

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LONDON - Airline passengers bound for the United States faced a hodgepodge of security measures across the world yesterday, but most European airports did not appear to be following a new US demand for increased screening of passengers from 14 countries.

US officials in Washington said the new security measures would be implemented yesterday but there were few visible changes on the ground in Europe, which sends thousands of passengers on hundreds of daily flights to the United States.

In addition, few if any changes in airline procedures were reported in the 14 countries named by the United States as security risks, although officials in Saudi Arabia said extra security personnel had been placed at the airport.

No changes were seen yesterday at international airports in Syria, Algeria, Libya, or Lebanon, four other countries on the list.

“Everything is the same, there is no extra security,’’ an aviation official in Lebanon said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The changes ordered by President Obama’s administration followed the arrest of a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to set off an explosive device on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab is at a federal prison in Milan, Mich., and faces a court hearing on Friday.

The new rules led to long security lines in Nigeria at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, where some travelers were told to show up more than seven hours ahead of their Delta Air Lines direct flight to Atlanta.

“Whatever it takes to keep passengers safe, I’m all for it,’’ said Emeka Ojukwu, 46, a Nigerian who now lives in New York state. “It’s really a bad rap for the country.

Asian airports had already ratcheted up security after the Christmas Day attack, but those in South Korea and Pakistan took additional measures.

Yet Europe remains the key crossroads for air travelers heading to the United States, with more than 800 scheduled trans-Atlantic flights a day in 2009, especially from major hubs like London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport was using 15 full-body scanners on flights to the United States and Dutch officials announced yesterday they will buy 60 more scanners. In Oslo, US-bound passengers had to show their passports and boarding passes twice at the gate, get their carry-ons searched and go through full body pat-downs.

Yet other European nations were still studying the new US rules. In Britain, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation said he was still trying to decipher its practical implications. He would not give his name due to the sensitivity of the subject. His comments were echoed by officials in Germany, France, and Switzerland, who said no new measures had been taken since airport security was increased after the failed Detroit plot.

French airport officials said the changes will not be implemented until they are ordered by the French government. In Spain, US-bound passengers from countries on the new watch list were not being singled out for body frisks, a security official admitted, speaking on condition on anonymity in line with agency rules.

US authorities said as of yesterday anyone traveling from or through nations regarded as state sponsors of terrorism - as well as “other countries of interest’’ - will be required to go through enhanced screening. The Transportation Security Administration said those techniques included full-body pat-downs, carry-on bag searches, full-body scanning and explosive detection technology.

The US State Department lists Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism. The US said other countries whose passengers should face enhanced screening include Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen.

Citizens from those countries already require a visa to enter the United States.

Iraq’s international airport in Baghdad already has extremely tight security, with dogs sniffing luggage and passengers getting patted even down before they can enter the airport.

In Nigeria, a minister said the government would perform whatever security checks the US government requested. “It is for the good of everybody that everybody is searched thoroughly,’’ Information Minister Dora Akunyili said. But she questioned Nigeria’s inclusion on the list, saying Abdulmutallab had lived and studied abroad for years.

“It is unfair to discriminate against 150 million Nigerians over the behavior of one person,’’ Akunyili said.

There is no European-wide consensus yet on the need for full-body scanners - which are being sought in Britain by Prime Minister Gordon Brown - but European Union officials said the issue will be raised at a special security meeting soon.