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Schumer: Airlines should stop flights to some countries

Police officers patrol the baggage claim area at

Police officers patrol the baggage claim area at Washington Dulles International Airport Dec. 28, 2009 in Sterling, Virginia. Credit: Getty Images

As federal officials move to boost security on U.S.-bound flights, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer Sunday called on airlines to stop flying to foreign airports with lax security.

And the United States should begin an immediate review of travel visas for anyone on a list of suspected terrorists, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

"The two times since 9/11 we've come close to terrorism succeeding have occurred when terrorists got on board airplanes in foreign airports," said Schumer, citing shoe-bomber Richard Reid and the Christmas Day bomb attempt on a Northwest Airlines plane by Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

"You don't have to be Albert Einstein to realize there are gaping holes at foreign airports," Schumer said.

Transportation Security Administration officials said Sunday they will attempt to plug some of those holes by subjecting passengers flying into the United States from Nigeria, Yemen and other "countries of interest" to enhanced screening techniques, such as body scans and pat-downs.

The State Department also lists Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism.

Starting Monday, all passengers on U.S.-bound international flights will be subject to random screening as the nation continues to grapple with the effects of the Christmas Day bomb attempt in Detroit.

Schumer Sunday issued a plan to improve airline security. He called for penalties for foreign airports that fail to comply with U.S. security rules, and improved information sharing between the United States and foreign governments.

In the wake of the Detroit incident, Schumer said, everybody boarding U.S.-bound flights from Nigeria "should get a complete, thorough inspection as if they are on a watch list."

Schumer called on the United States to consider revoking travel visas for anyone on the federal terrorist watch list. There are fewer than 400,000 people on the list, according to the Transportation Security Administration Web site. He said foreign countries should be required to turn over to the United States all visa information on their citizens, especially information about previous trips to countries considered to be hostile.

"There's no reason these foreign countries can't provide better security," he said.

Airlines must take it upon themselves to enforce U.S. air security laws because the TSA is understaffed at foreign airports, Schumer said. "We have about 30 people to cover 300 airports, so no wonder they're not up to snuff," he said.

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, which owns Northwest, said the company had no immediate response. Other airlines could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Schumer said the federal budget includes "plenty of funding" to hire more TSA inspectors, but the agency is "just not using it. TSA officials did not return a phone call Sunday night seeking comment.

With AP

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