Accessibility links

Breaking News

New U.S. Air Travel Screening Rules

The United States is tightening its air passenger security procedures following a failed attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Air travelers from Nigeria, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and nine other countries will face full-body pat downs before boarding airliners under new security screening procedures targeting foreign passengers announced by the United States.

The procedures, which go into effect January 4, follow the botched Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner blamed on a Nigerian man who U.S. officials believe was trained by Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Passengers traveling from or through nations listed as "state sponsors of terrorism" -- Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria -- as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen will face heightened screening, an Obama administration official said. Nearly all of those are Muslim countries.

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 on 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.

Umar 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 December 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 Islamic 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 December 25 incident despite having evidence about Abdulmutallab.

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.

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.

U.S. intelligence officials have 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. Most of the men who carried out the September 11 hijackings of U.S. airliners were Saudi-born.

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