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French investigate security lapse

American Airlines flight 63
France will investigate how an explosive was allegedly carried on board a Paris flight  


PARIS, France -- French officials are trying to figure out how a man with suspected explosives in his shoe was allowed to board a flight.

Government ministers met on Monday to discuss airport security after the man allegedly tried to set off the explosives while on board a Paris-to-Miami flight on Saturday.

The Transport ministry confirmed a probe had been launched by the Air and Frontier Police into how the man -- identified by U.S. prosecutors as Richard Reid -- passed security checks.

France's anti-terror police and DST counter-espionage agency have opened a separate security investigation into the man and his background.

According to police, airline personnel stopped him from boarding the same flight the day before because of bizarre behaviour and a suspiciously new passport, CNN correspondent Jim Bittermann reported.

Security at airports around the world was stepped up over the weekend after crew and passengers held down the suspect on American Airlines Flight 63, which was forced to divert to Boston under U.S. jet guard.

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CNN's Kathleen Koch reports that the latest airline scare, in which a passenger allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his shoes, has prompted rigorous airport security checks (December 24)

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CNN's John Zarrella has more on the man officials say had explosives in his shoe and was trying to ignite them on an international flight (December 23)

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On Monday, French media reported that police pulled Reid aside when he tried to take the same flight on Friday.

He was eventually allowed to board after intensive questioning but had missed the flight, the reports said, adding that he had one small bag with him and told police he was traveling to Antigua to visit family.

"One of our policemen spoke with him at the request of the airline," French daily Liberation reported, quoting a source at the Air and Frontier Police (PAF).

"Under normal circumstances, someone who is travelling so far will need to check baggage, but the policeman believed the man had a solid argument because he was visiting his family in Antigua and said his belongings were there."

The Transport Ministry said some additional security had already been put in place since Sunday, including the introduction of extra airport patrols and sniffer dogs, and bolstering the police presence at security checkpoints

"These measures will be adapted based on the results of several ongoing national (and international) inquiries," the ministry said.

French Border Police have asked for the number of sniffer dogs at the Paris airport to be increased from 12 to 100.

But an air transportation expert told The Associated Press that it was "practically impossible" to have enough dogs to ferret out explosives that might be hidden among the tens of thousands of passengers who board flights daily.

"We don't want to put dogs all over the airport. They are living beings, not machines, and they can't work 24 hours a day," the expert said.

Dogs are best used to inspect individual passengers who arouse suspicions, he said.

Even more important than closer inspection procedures, according to those who study terrorists, is knowing more about the identity of the passengers themselves.

"Human behaviour is unpredictable and therefore not detectable with security equipment, although it is true the more we raise the level of security the harder we make the terrorists' work," says Patrick Rouby, chief inspector for the French Border Police.

Among other suggestions is closer background checks on those who fly, perhaps beginning from the moment they buy their tickets.

French newspapers have decried the failings of current security measures.

The daily Liberation said: "The issue of air security has been rethought but has clearly not yet been solved."

Reid, 28, was carrying a British passport, though French authorities have said they believe he is from Sri Lanka.

An FBI agent, left, sits next to a man U.S. authorities believe tried to ignite explosives in his shoes on transatlantic flight
An FBI agent, left, sits next to a man U.S. authorities believe tried to ignite explosives in his shoes on transatlantic flight  

French officials say Reid, a convert to Islam, has also been known as Abdel Raheem and Tariq Raja.

Asked if there were gaps in the security measures taken in Paris since the September 11 attacks, Rouby said: "You cannot speak of gaps, to the contrary -- there has been an enormous increase in security measures."

But he added: "It is clear there can be an unforeseen turn of events."

France's anti-terror police and DST counter-espionage agency have launched separate security investigations into Reid and any possible links to underground organisation in France and Europe.

An official for French Border Police, which shares responsibility for security at all airports in France with the Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press: "For the moment, we do not know how this man got through.

"He had a British passport, and we're trying to determine whether it was falsified."

"I cannot explain this situation," another PAF official, Joel Dorne, told France Inter radio.

"In principle it is not possible to pass police controls with such documents, especially for flights considered sensitive after September 11 -- unless the forgery is perfect."

A British Foreign Office spokesman, in London, said: "We are acting on the basis he is a British citizen. We are seeking normal consular access as we would with any UK citizen."



 
 
 
 


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