Monday, January 4, 2010

US airport terminal locked down over security


WASHINGTON (Agencies)

Terminal C at Newark International Airport near New York City was locked down early Monday because of a security breach, TV reports said, citing the Transportation Security Administration.

The terminal was being cleared and passengers were being rescreened after a man walked through the wrong side of a checkpoint without being screened.

Joshua Brown of Toronto, who was waiting in the terminal to board a flight for Lisbon, said the terminal lobby was packed with perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 people, waiting for a large number of security forces to complete their checks.

About two hours after the incident, he said, "The security checkpoints are still empty and nobody is queuing up."

Major U.S. airports have been at a heightened level of security since a botched attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day by a Nigerian man who had explosives in his underwear when boarding at Amsterdam and who is believed to have been trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen.

U.S. officials announced earlier on Sunday that citizens of 14 nations who are flying to the United States will be subject to intensified screening at airports worldwide.


Intensifies screening
" The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S.-bound international flights "
U.S. Transportation Security Administration statement

Air travelers from Nigeria, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and ten other countries will face full-body pat downs before boarding airliners under new security screening procedures targeting foreign passengers, the officials said.

Passengers traveling from or through nations listed as "state sponsors of terrorism" will face heightened screening, an Obama administration official said.

Such passengers will be patted down, have their carry-on luggage searched and could undergo advanced explosive detection or imaging scans, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. agency responsible for air security measures, announced the "enhanced screening" procedures, adding that any passengers on U.S.-bound flights could be subjected to random security searches.

Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, was arrested by U.S. authorities after being accused of carrying a bomb sewn into his underwear onto a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Dec. 25. He got through security screening in Amsterdam, and was subdued by passengers and crew after trying to blow up the plane.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday it appeared Abdulmutallab was a member of al-Qaeda and had been trained and equipped by the militant network in Yemen.

The announcement of the new security steps comes amid rising criticism by U.S. Republicans and others that American diplomatic and intelligence officials failed to prevent the Dec. 25 incident despite having evidence about Abdulmutallab.

U.S. intelligence officials said they believe that al-Qaeda leaders are hiding out in Pakistan after being chased from Afghanistan during the war that began in 2001 in the weeks after the group's Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Yemen also is emerging as a major area of al-Qaeda activity, according to security experts.

The new rules apply to anyone with a passport from any of the 14 countries, and anyone stopping in those countries, the administration official said.

U.S.-bound flights
" 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 U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening "
TSA

The Transportation Security Administration said it issued security directives to all U.S. and international airlines with inbound flights to the United States that would include random screening of passengers. This random screening policy applies to any airport in the world for flights coming to the United States, the official said.

"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 U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening," the agency said in the statement.

"The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S.-bound international flights," it added.

All passengers are screened electronically for weapons and bombs regardless, and the new rules that include random enhancements appear more agreeable to airlines, which chaffed at broad requirements imposed after the Dec. 25 incident.

Carriers complained about widespread delays and other passenger inconveniences, especially in Canada and Europe.

However, airlines will not be able to assess the full impact of the new regime on their operations for a few days.

Last week, airlines told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the system could not manage efficiently under a 100 percent pat-down mandate over the long term. Any changes to that routine would be welcome.