Federal officials reviewing security measures at airport ticket counters

Friday, July 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Passengers are not checked for weapons or even closely monitored at most airports when they enter the terminals where ticket counters are located _ a security situation that may need to be changed, officials said.

After Thursday's shooting at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport, federal officials are reviewing whether security improvements are needed there as well.

Transportation Security Administration investigators remained at the airport Friday, gathering more information, department spokesman Chet Lunner said.

The agency eventually will take over security responsibilities at airports that local law enforcement agencies currently provide. Those include patrolling terminals.

The government has been paying more attention to screening passengers and luggage since the Sept. 11 attacks, but there still is little security at most airport ticketing areas. Airlines, not the government, are responsible for security in those areas.

The shooting at the Los Angeles airport appeared to be ``an isolated incident'' not at this point believed to be related to terrorism, FBI agent Richard Garcia said Thursday. The identity of the gunman was not disclosed.

Whatever the motive, it was the second shooting inside a major airport terminal in just over a month.

A man with a shotgun opened fire on May 22 in the terminal of the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, killing a woman and wounding another person. He told authorities he fired because he was angry that people had ridiculed the turban he was wearing.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, an advocacy group, said the Transportation Department, airports and airlines should form a task force to study what additional security measures are necessary.

``We may need to consider a stronger armed force in the public areas of airports,'' Stempler said.

Until Thursday, ticketing areas had not gotten much attention from the Transportation Security Administration, which is trying to meet congressional deadlines for hiring federal screeners and inspecting all checked bags for explosives.

``We'll continue to work with airport executives and review security procedures to see if something needs to be done,'' said Greg Warren, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

The agency contacted other airports Thursday to make sure that the Los Angeles shooting was isolated and not part of broader attack. Air marshals also were alerted, as were ports, railroads, and transit systems, Lunner said.

The Los Angeles airport gunman was killed by an El Al security guard.

Airport officials in several major cities _ including Boston, Miami, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia _ said security at their airports was especially tight because of the holidays. But they said no additional actions had been taken because of the Los Angeles shooting.

Since Sept. 11, more law enforcement officials have been stationed at airports, as part of an effort to increase airline security after suicide terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes.

Congress responded to the attacks by requiring that a federal work force screen passengers and their luggage, but the new law left security at ticket counters in the hands of the airlines.