European Officials Review Airline Security Measures

Airports across Europe are on high alert after a passenger traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day managed to board the jetliner with a plastic explosive that he tried to detonate. Following the incident, some European officials are pushing for tighter security, including mandatory full-body scans at airports and detailed background checks on some passengers.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep on the next-to-last day of the year. Good morning.

The discovery of an attempted attack on a flight to Detroit has sparked debate in Europe, as well as the United States. A Nigerian man who allegedly tried to blow up a plane boarded that plane in Amsterdam, and now European leaders are asking what went wrong. Some are taking action.

WERTHEIMER: Today, officials in the Netherlands announced that country will begin using full-body scanners to screen passengers bound for the United States. More than a dozen scanners are already in place at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, but their use has been limited due to privacy concerns.

Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: When he flew to Detroit out of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not go through one of the full-body scanners that may have picked up the explosive powder and syringe of chemicals hidden in his underwear. Schiphol Airport's chief operating officer, Ad Rutten, says while no scanning method is 100 percent foolproof, the microwave scanner would drastically reduce the number of would-be bombers who are able to slip through. Dutch passenger Haneka May(ph) says for her, safety trumps modesty.

Ms. HANEKA MAY: I think it's good. I think they check you completely and your luggage. I think they should do it.

(Soundbite of noise)

BEARDSLEY: In Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport has been a scene of organized chaos since the weekend, as hundreds of additional security personnel have been brought in.

Mr. PATRICK ESPAGNOL (Head of Security, Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris): (Through translator) We are systematically doing double security check on all passengers traveling to the U.S.

BEARDSLEY: That's Patrick Espagnol, head of security at de Gaulle Airport. After U.S.-bound passengers go through the usual metal detectors, each ticketholder is thoroughly patted down again, and every item in each carry-on bag is taken out and inspected just before boarding. The additional measures have forced delays, and passengers heading to the U.S. are advised to show up at least three hours before their flights. But people here seem to be taking it in stride. Frenchman Claude Veya(ph) and African Normair Mambo(ph) are waiting in the check-in line, leaning on a cart piled high with suitcases.

Mr. CLAUDE VEYA: (Through translator) I was surprised with everything already in place, taking off shoes, belts. In spite of it all, someone get by with a bomb. I'm ready for more security, but what will it take? Us getting naked?

BEARDSLEY: Both men and the woman they're traveling with say they wouldn't object to full-body scans, but Mambo says he is very disappointed that an African was involved in the terrorist plot.

Mr. NORMAIR MAMBO: (Through translator) For a long time, these kinds of things were limited to extremists from other places, so I was really shocked to see an African black man do that.

BEARDSLEY: French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has called for a massive tightening of security measures for flyers. His plan would include providing detailed profile information on passengers traveling to France from certain high-risk countries at the ticket reservation stage. Under current procedures, a passenger's identification is only supplied at check-in. The plan would include passengers making connecting flights like the Nigerian national on the Detroit flight who did not undergo a security check in Amsterdam because he was in transit. Hortefeux says he wants the system in place by New Year's Day, and will push for its adoption Europe-wide. But some passengers here, like Heri Bourginon(ph), say they are skeptical.

Mr. HERI BOURGINON: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: If someone really wants to try to blow up a plane, he'll find a way to get through the crowd of security controls, he says. And he can just give a fake name when he buys his plane ticket.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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