President Obama’s strict new security guidelines for air travelers from high-risk countries is drawing criticism from officials in some of the targeted nations, including American allies Iraq and Afghanistan.
As part of an array of new measures enacted after the failed Christmas Day bombing of Detroit-bound Flight 253, airport-security officers are patting down passengers from 14 countries, most of them in the Middle East and Africa. While the Transportation Security Administration has justified the move as a proactive means of keeping out potential terrorist threats, the Iraqi and Afghan ambassadors to the United States oppose the singling out of their citizens.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast on Tuesday, Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie slammed the new guidelines and warned that they “will not deliver peace and security” to travelers.
Terrorist threats, the Afghan ambassador said, “are a global concern, not just a precise problem originating within the borders of a handful of countries.”
“I don’t think its fair,” Sumaida’ie said. “Furthermore, I don’t believe that it’s effective to just look at all Iraqis, or all Egyptians, or all Saudis as terrorists—it’s counterproductive. First off, it alienates people, and second, the fact is that they are not all terrorists and they are not all even reasonably suspect.”
The new restrictions, the ambassador added, do not reflect the circumstances of the latest attack.
“The cause of all this has been this young man from Nigeria, but it seems that there was plenty of intelligence about him to indicate that he was a threat,” he said. “How about improving the handling of intelligence? That would have helped eliminate that particular threat and probably most similar threats.”
Sumaida’ie said the United States should expect formal complaints from Iraq and other nations targeted by the policy.
“We intend to raise the matter with the American administration, and I’m sure we will not be the only people who will feel this way,” he said.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, echoed the Iraqi diplomat’s opposition to the measures.
In a statement, Jawad told The Daily Beast that terrorist threats “are a global concern, not just a precise problem originating within the borders of a handful of countries.” Al Qaeda, he said, “is an organization made of up individuals who do not carry legitimate passports, and in fact, actively recruit individuals from all over the world, especially in Europe and the United States.”
Added Jawad: “It’s unfair to single out all Afghans for extreme scrutiny, especially when there has never been an instance of international terrorism carried out by an Afghan; the exception being an Afghan refugee who was raised in Pakistan and lived in the United States”—an apparent reference to Najibullah Zazi, a suspected al Qaeda terrorist arrested in Colorado last year. “Afghans completely understand the need for stronger security measures since everything and everyone is a target of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. But we must not let our fear force a missed opportunity to produce meaningful security measures which don’t ostracize innocent travelers, brings us all closer to fighting a common enemy and allows everyone to travel the globe in relative safety.”
Officials from Nigeria, the suspected bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s country of origin, are also up in arms over their inclusion on the list. Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe told reporters on Tuesday that the security measures are “an unacceptable New Year’s gift.” Cuba, also on the list, criticized the move in a state-run newspaper as “anti-terrorist paranoia.”
In addition to Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Cuba, the countries on the list are Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
Airline groups are on board with the new security measures and announced their support of the plan on Monday.
“We believe [the new guidelines] enhance security for the flying public, and they’re being implemented in the most convenient manner,” David Castelveter, a spokesman at the Air Transport Association, told The Wall Street Journal.
A call to a TSA spokesman for comment was not immediately returned.
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.