Confusion reigns in Europe after US demands more stringent airport security

Confusion in Europe afte

airport security pakistan 248.88 AP (photo credit: )
airport security pakistan 248.88 AP
(photo credit: )
Airline passengers bound for the United States faced a hodgepodge of security measures across the world on Monday, but all European airports did not appear to be following a US demand for increased screening of passengers from 14 countries. US officials in Washington said the new security measures would be implemented Monday but there were few visible changes on the ground in Europe, which has 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 US as security risks, although officials in Saudi Arabia said extra security personnel had been placed at the airport. No changes were seen Monday at international airports in Syria, Libya or Lebanon, three 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 US President Barack 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 now at a federal prison in Milan, Michigan and faces a court hearing on Friday. Asian airports had already ratcheted up security following the Christmas Day attack, but those in South Korea and Pakistan were taking additional measures. Yet Europe remains the key crossroads for air travelers heading to the United States, with over 800 scheduled trans-Atlantic flights a day in 2009, especially from major hubs like London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. In Britain, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation said he was still trying to decipher the practical implications of the new US rules. He refused to give his name due to the sensitivity of the subject. His comments were echoed by officials in Germany and Switzerland, who said no new measures had been taken since airport security was increased following the failed Christmas Day attack. 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. In contrast, passengers in Oslo bound for the US faced heavy security. They had to show passports and boarding passes twice at the gate, have their carry-ons searched and go through full patdowns. At London's busy Heathrow Airport, management consultant James MacDonald said before he boarded a flight to Denver that he would not mind an extra wait if it enhanced flight security. "I can understand why if you're from Pakistan or whatever it would make it even worse," said MacDonald, 52. "On the other hand if it's a question of safety, I really don't see any argument there." US authorities said as of Monday 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. Nationals from those countries already require a visa to enter the United States. Baghdad's International Airport already has extremely tight security, with dogs sniffing luggage and passengers getting patted even down before they could 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. "It is outside of the shores of this country that he developed this nasty tendency to do what he tried to do." Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the extra US security demands could further alienate travelers from Muslim countries. "There is already concern amongst Arabs and Muslims who feel they are being targeted at airports," he said. "This looks like an escalation of targeting a particular person who looks threatening because of where they come from." 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. Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport begin using two full-body scanners on flights to the US last week and was pressing to quickly retrofit 13 others with special, less invasive software to put them into use soon. Some travelers thought concerns about privacy with the scanners were overrated. "Privacy can be easily sacrificed in the name of security," said Mauro Forno, a 46-year-old tourist who flew into Rome from Genoa with his family. "Nudity is not a problem for anybody at the beach." The world's airline pilots welcomed the new security measures demanded by the US, noting that they had not created massive flight delays like those seen after the 9/11 attacks. "We want the bad guys kept away from airplanes," said Gideon Ewers, spokesman for the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations (IFALPA). "We firmly as believe that intelligence gathering and interdiction of potential terrorists is the way to protect aircraft and the flying public." In Jordan, a key US ally, an official at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport said "enhanced techniques" were being applied, especially in screening passengers bound for the United States. He declined to elaborate. Pakistan's national airline said it began intensifying security checks Jan. 1 for US-bound passengers, even though there are no direct flights to the US from Pakistan. Spokesman Sultan Hasan said passengers were being subject to special screening, including full body searches. "It is beyond my imagination what more they could do," said Nadim Umer, 40, a Karachi-based linen merchant who said he was strip searched when he arrived in New York last June. "Those who are dying to go to America at any cost can put up with all this inhuman behavior, but I cannot." In Seoul's Incheon International Airport, US-bound passengers had to go through additional security before boarding, and security officials compiled lists of "suspicious" passengers to monitor based on their nationalities, travel patterns and ticket purchases. In Australia, all passengers flying to the US continued to be patted down Monday and have all their cabin luggage searched. Maayan Malkin, spokeswoman for Israel Airports Authority, declined to discuss security arrangements. The Ben-Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv is considered one of the safest in the world.