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Tougher screening for fliers from Pak, 13 other countries: US

The US announces enhanced screening such as body scans and pat-downs for passengers flying in from 14 'terror-linked' nations including Pakistan and Afghanistan, 10 days after a Nigerian bomber's botched attempt to blow up a packed plane.

world Updated: Jan 04, 2010 14:38 IST

The US on Monday announced enhanced screening such as body scans and pat-downs for passengers flying in from 14 "terror-linked" nations including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, 10 days after a Nigerian bomber's botched attempt to blow up a packed plane.



"The new directive includes long-term, sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners," said Transportation and Security Administration (TSA), the American agency responsible for protection of transportation system.



"Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the US from anywhere in the world travelling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening," it said in a statement.



The announcement comes 10 days after Nigerian al-Qaeda-linked bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to bring a highly explosive chemical inside a US plane.



He has been charged with an attempt to blow up a North West Airlines' Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam carrying 300 people aboard on December 25.



The TSA said the heightened security procedures include full-body pat downs before boarding, checking of carry-on baggage and random checks on US-bound flights.



"The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on US-bound international flights," the TSA said.



While the TSA itself did not release the name of the countries, media reports said these nations include those listed by the State Department as 'State Sponsors of Terrorism' and 'Countries of Interest'.

The countries designated as 'State Sponsors of Terrorism' on the State Department list are Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. On the other hand the "Countries of Interest", US media reported, include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq.



The new rules will apply to anyone stopping in these 14 nations and passport-holders of these countries.



However, American citizens and foreigners not flying through these nations will not be subject to the enhanced screening, Obama administration officials said.



The new rules also mean that thousands of citizens from any of these 14 nations will also be subject to, in some airports, whole body scanners that can detect explosives below the clothing, which have not been used previously due to privacy concerns.



Following the announcement, several rights group in the US have already voiced their concerns claiming that the new rules are discriminatory and imply that citizens of these 14 nations are to be treated as suspects.



In the week following the incident on Christmas Day, several flights including those of Air India, Air Canada and British Airways beefed up the security.



American Airlines noted, at the time, that the US Transportation Security Administration had issued "new security measures for all flights departing from any foreign location to the United States".



The new measures come after an outcry from US politicians about the Christmas Day security breach that could have led to a catastrophic result on the flight if the incendiary device had been set alight.



Senator Susan Collins, senior member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, expressed deep concern at the security lapse and called for US authorities to be "vigilant and alert".



"It is troubling that he (the bomber) was apparently able to bring explosive material on the air plane," she said, in a written statement.



"This incident is a disturbing reminder that the terrorist threat is still very real and that we must continue to be vigilant and alert. It also raises some serious questions."