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Friday, April 9, 2010    

U.S. drops Iran and Syria from airport watch list

WASHINGTON — The United States has removed Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and other nations from augmented airport security measures.   

Officials said Syria was one of 14 countries exempted from additional airport security, a measure imposed in January 2010, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the regime of President Bashar Assad was cooperating in helping screen passengers on flights to the West.

"There are new measures that don't require special treatment of passengers from Syria and other Muslim states," an official said.

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On April 6, the administration of President Barack Obama said the exemptions would also affect Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

For more than three months, passengers who came from these countries had been subjected to additional inspection, including patting down their entire body before boarding flights to the United States. Iran, Sudan and Syria have been on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist sponsors.

The measures were instituted on Jan. 3 in the wake of a failed bombing of a U.S. airliner by an Al Qaida agent from Nigeria. The would-be bomber, Omar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, had been on a no-fly list meant to prevent entry to the United States.

Officials said President Barack Obama ordered the review that led to the removal of Iran, Syria and other countries from a list that required intensified security measures. They said Obama has sought to base passenger screening in accordance with specific threats to the United States.

"These new, enhanced measures are part of a dynamic, threat-based aviation security system covering all passengers travelling by air to the U.S. while focusing security measures in a more effective and efficient manner to ensure the safety and security of the travelling public," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

Officials acknowledged that the security measures had elicted protests from several countries, particularly Algeria, regarded as a key partner in U.S. counter-insurgency. They said other Arab countries then viewed the measures as reflecting U.S. distrust of their regimes while American passengers complained of huge delays at airports.

"Passengers travelling to the U.S. from international destinations may notice enhanced security and random screening measures throughout the passenger check-in and boarding process, including the use of explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, or patdowns, among other security measures," Ms. Napolitano said.

Officials said Ms. Napolitano has briefed foreign governments, including some of the 14, of the revised security measures. They said airport authorities would target individuals that match the description of any unnamed insurgency threat, whether by age or nationality.

"It is much more surgical targeting those individuals we are concerned about and have intelligence for," an administration official told a briefing on April 1. "This is not a system that can be called profiling in the traditional sense. It is intelligence-based."

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