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WASHINGTON (RNS) Muslim and Sikh groups praised the Transportation Security Administration for rolling back screening rules on passengers arriving from 14 primarily Islamic countries, even as some worry that profiling will continue.
The new rules had been enacted after a Nigerian Muslim man tried and failed to explode a bomb onboard a Northwest Airlines jet bound for Detroit on Christmas Day. Civil liberty groups said the rules amounted to ethnic and religious profiling.
The suspect in that case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had not been subjected to extra screening despite being listed in a government database of suspected or known terrorists.
Under revamped policies announced by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday (April 2), international passengers will be compared against intelligence data based on physical descriptions or travel patterns.
Napolitano said passengers who are flagged for extra security may face “explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams or pat-downs” prior to boarding flights for the U.S.
Religious groups welcomed the change, saying the old system was ineffective and arbitrary.
“It would not have subjected Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber of British-Jamaican ancestry, to enhanced screening,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based group Muslim Advocates, who had raised concerns with Napolitano earlier this year.
The Sikh Coalition called the change “a step in the right direction,” but said Arabs, South Asians and Sikhs will likely face continued profiling because of the “broad discretion” that airport screeners have in pulling aside passengers for extra scrutiny based solely on appearance or ethnic origin.
Sikh men say they are often singled out because of religious items — turbans, ceremonial daggers and beards — that are mandatory articles of faith.
“Sikhs can attest that without … safeguards, screeners end up losing focus on actual threats and instead sloppily focus on race, religion or national origin,” said the group’s program director, Amardeep Singh.
— Kevin Eckstrom
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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