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US Security Measures Discriminate Against Muslims, Charges Malaysia PM - 2002-10-01

Malaysia's prime minister is lashing out at new U.S. immigration policies aimed at preventing terrorism. Mahathir Mohammad says the new airport checks discriminate against Muslims worldwide, including the Malaysians.

Prime Minister Mahathir says the new U.S. policy is the result of what he called "anti-Muslim hysteria" and he is quite upset.

Beginning October 1, U.S. immigration officials will have the authority at all ports of entry to fingerprint, photograph and register visitors who may fit a terrorist profile.

The new rules target people mostly from Muslim and Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and the Sudan. Visitors from countries deemed to be a high security risk, including Malaysia, will be included, based on intelligence reports. The information taken will be compared with databases on terrorists and criminals. A statement from the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur says Malaysians, as well as citizens from many other countries, would likely encounter the new procedures.

Prime Minister Mahathir's deputy, Ahmad Abdullah Badawi, already experienced strict security checks two weeks ago when he traveled to the United States to attend a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.

Mr. Badawi was asked to remove his belt and shoes as part of a routine security check at his port of entry, the Los Angeles International Airport, before being allowed to fly onward to New York. Malaysia's Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, says he understood the need for tightened security to thwart terrorism, but he objected to the inclusion of Malaysia on any U.S. immigration watch list. He says it creates a negative impression about the country for those who did not know Malaysia's stance against terrorism. During the last year, Malaysia, a predominately Muslim nation, has jailed more than 60 people suspected of being Muslim militants from the Jemaah Islamiah, a group aiming to establish a pure Islamic state in southeast Asia.

One of the suspects arrested allegedly allowed two of the September 11 hijackers to use his apartment for a meeting in January 2000.