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Nine of Sept. 11 hijackers were singled out for extra scrutiny before boarding planes, government official says

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nine of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were singled out for increased scrutiny but still were allowed to board the planes that later smashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

A government official confirmed that six hijackers were flagged by a computerized airline passenger profiling system. Two others were singled out because of questions with their identification, and a third because he was traveling with one of the passengers with questionable ID, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under the security procedures in place at the time, passengers flagged for greater scrutiny would have their checked luggage inspected for explosives, either by hand or by machine. The passengers and the bags they carry on already are screened for weapons.

The hijackers used box cutters and knives to take over the airplanes, but those items were allowed to be carried on board before the terrorist attacks.

The procedures were put in place to prevent airline bombings, as was the case with Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988. Federal aviation officials did not anticipate suicide terrorists turning commercial airliners into weapons; airline crews were taught to cooperate with hijackers as the best way to ensure that a plane lands safely.

``The problem with 9-11 is the protocols were set up with a Pan Am 103 mentality,'' Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said Sunday. ``They were looking for explosives.

``No one expected the element of them using planes as an explosive weapon and willing to commit suicide,'' said Mica. ``Now that we have that as a new criteria, it's important that we have a good profiling system in place.''

``Clearly the system failed even worse than is generally known,'' said Paul Hudson, who lost his daughter in the bombing of Pan Am 103 and now runs the Aviation Consumer Action Project, an advocacy group affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader. ``There should be no reason to place high confidence in it again.''

The searches were first reported by The Washington Post.

The computerized profiling system has since been modified to single out more passengers for extra scrutiny.

In addition, airlines are now checking the names of passengers against government lists of potential terrorists, sometimes with software offering alternative spellings of Arabic names to prevent people from evading detection by using different translations.

Airline security officials did not know on Sept. 11 that two of the hijackers were on an FBI watch list of potential terrorists.

A group of relatives of the victims of Sept. 11 has called for an investigation of airline security that day, a request echoed by Hudson.

``This showed why we need a full independent investigation of what happened'' on Sept. 11, Hudson said. ``We haven't heard the whole story.''

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