U.S. considers ways to tighten airline security; Delta Air Lines cuts 13,000 jobs

Wednesday, September 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Delta Air Lines announced a cut of up to 13,000 jobs Wednesday as the Bush administration readied new security measures to coax nervous Americans back into the skies. American officials worked with Pakistanis on plans to strike bases in Afghanistan, retaliation for this month's deadly terrorist attacks.

With military strikes expected, a crowd of thousands stormed the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan's capital city, burning American flags and an effigy of President Bush. Shouts of ``long live Osama'' filled the air, a reference to the man the United States has identified as the culprit behind terrorist strikes that left nearly 7,000 dead or missing in New York and Washington.

Bush traveled to the CIA at midday, where he delivered strong words of support for its director, George Tenet, despite the agency's failure to warn of the attacks of Sept. 11. '' I've got a lot of confidence in him and I've got a lot of confidence in the CIA, and so should America,'' he said.

The massive investigation into the strikes led to a federal courtroom outside Washington, where a Virginia man was ordered held without bond. A prosecutor described the man, Mohamed Abdi, as an essential witness and possibly more. Officials said Abdi's name and phone number were found in a car registered to one of the 19 suspected hijackers.

Delta became the latest in the aviation industry to announce layoffs. The company's chairman, Leo Mullin, said as many as 13,000 jobs would be lost as the result of a 15 percent cut in service to take effect later this year.

Other major carriers had previously announced tens of thousands of layoffs in the wake of the attacks, in which terrorist hijacked airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Another plane crashed in Pennsylvania after what officials say was a struggle between passengers and the terrorists.

Overall, U.S. airlines and the aircraft maker Boeing have announced cuts totaling well over 100,000 jobs.

Delta spokesman Tom Donahue said the airline has lost about $1 billion since the attacks. The company will get about $600 million from the $5 billion cash relief approved by Congress last week, he said.

``The direct aid granted by the government helps Delta meet its immediate financial obligations, but with passenger demand forecast to remain depressed for at least a year, the need to reduce costs remains a financial imperative,'' Donahue said.

The administration readied a concerted effort to reassure Americans it is safe to fly again. Bush arranged a visit Thursday to Chicago, where he is expected to announce his administration's new security proposals, including armed marshals on most if not all jetliners. Congressional leaders have said they are eager to act on necessary legislation.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to provide any details.

In comments from the White House podium, the spokesman also stressed that the president appreciated comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin in support of the war on terrorism. Russia also has given its acquiescence for the U.S. military to use military bases from former Soviet republics in central Asia.

Fleischer also called on leaders in Chechnya, seeking to break away from Russia, to ``immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups such as Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida organization.''

Fleischer said the United States continues to believe that a political solution is the way out of the violence in Chechnya. Yet his remarks about terrorist links between Chechnyans and bin Laden suggested a different emphasis, less sympathetic about foes of Putin's Russia at a time when Moscow was extending itself to the United States.

For his part, Bush conferred with his national security advisers, talked by phone with foreign leaders and met with Sikh leaders as he renewed his public pleadings for Americans to remain tolerant even as they are vigilant against terrorism. ``An American Sikh has been killed, unjustly so,'' he said, referring to an apparent hate crime carried out after the terrorist attacks.

The protesters in Kabul set vehicles ablaze and tore the American seal from its mount on the embassy compound. The compound was abandoned in 1988.

In neighboring Pakistan, sources said the government has reached broad accord with U.S. officials on a plan for attacks on bases inside Afghanistan. There was no word on when military action might commence.

In New York, emergency crews worked through the night to dismantle a seven-story fragment of metal facade, all that remained standing of the World Trade Center, as the area was declared a crime scene off limits to cameras.

Attorney General John Ashcroft on Tuesday told Congress that terrorists may be planning an attack using a truck carrying hazardous chemicals. Twenty people have been charged with trying to obtain fraudulent licenses to drive tanker trucks, officials said. Some of those arrested in connection with the tanker licenses may have connections to the hijackers, the Justice Department said.

``Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today,'' Ashcroft told a Senate hearing.

Bush met Tuesday with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to discuss airline security measures as lawmakers clamored for action.

A Bush proposal was likely to include giving the federal government a greater role in overseeing private security companies that work in airports. Bush was said to be cool to the idea of arming pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration was advertising for air marshals _ and more than 100,000 people have downloaded the application off the agency's Web site.

Federal law enforcement officials from other agencies are being quickly trained and pressed into service until the new crop of marshals is hired.

Bush officials also want to replace relatively flimsy, easy to open, cockpit doors with something more sturdy.