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Malaysia Knocks U.S. Airport Checks

October 1, 2002

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ The Malaysian prime minister said Tuesday that new procedures being used to screen some foreign passengers at U.S. airports were ``anti-Muslim hysteria.″

Also Tuesday, the opposition Democratic Action Party said the United States should apologize to Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi, who was searched at Los Angeles International Airport and asked to remove his belt and shoes, before being allowed to continue on to New York.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters that the new U.S. immigration policy requiring tens of thousands of visitors to be photographed and fingerprinted was upsetting because it ``labeled″ the ``whole Muslim world″ as suspect for the actions of a few of that faith on Sept. 11.

``It’s unfortunate that this is the stance taken, but it’s their country,″ Mahathir said.

The new rules, which target visitors from mostly Muslim and Middle Eastern countries, took effect Tuesday. All citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan will be checked.

Visitors from Malaysia and other countries including Egypt who are believed a security risk will be fingerprinted and photographed. The pictures and fingerprints are to be matched against criminal and terrorist databases.

But even before the new regulations took effect, Mahathir’s deputy got a taste of America’s strict post-Sept. 11 security environment when he traveled through Los Angeles to a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly two weeks ago.

``All of us had to undergo the same security checks, even the pilot,″ Abdullah was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper Tuesday. ``I was not exempted ... and I agreed to take off my shoes.″

Although Abdullah tried to downplay the incident, the Democratic Action Party called the demands made of him ``disrespectful.″

``It is unimaginable to think that the Malaysian authority would ask Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States, or any other top government leaders ... to take off their shoes″ at an airport, party spokesman Ronnie Liu said.

In the past year, Malaysia has arrested 63 people accused of plotting attacks aimed at establishing an-Islamic state in Southeast Asia. One of the suspects allegedly allowed two of the Sept. 11 hijackers to use his apartment for a meeting in January 2000.

Update hourly