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US Consular officer speaks, following attempted Christmas bombing

Jan 28, 2010, 1:35 PM | Article By: Ebrima Sawaneh

Following an attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight by a Nigerian-born Abdulmutallab, as it approached Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day last year, the  US Consular Officer in The Gambia yesterday granted an exclusive interview to The Point as to whether or not there has been changes on the issuing of visas for applicants.

Consular Officer Michael K. Fitzpatrick, in his first interview since assuming office, told this paper that, as of now, there is no formal change in the procedures for issuing visas, since the attempted attack.

"President Obama has ordered a number of reviews, a review of some of the lapses that we have concerning people that are not allowed to fly and also screening procedures at airports itself."

"I don't know following these reviews whether there will be some changes in the procedures, but at the moment, there has not been any change," Fitzpatrick said.

On what conditions or criteria are in place before issuing a visa to applicants, after the event of the attempted attack, the US Consular Officer stated that the same procedures still apply, except for heightened screening procedures for people that are coming from 14 different countries around the world.

"These are countries that have suffered from terrorism themselves or state sponsors of terrorism, many on the list are very important partners to the United States in the fight against terrorism. So, I think they can appreciate that the heightened procedures are necessary in the world that we live today," Fitzpatrick said, adding that many other countries, many of them US partners have also increased their own screening procedures independently of the United States.

Fitzpatrick emphasised the fact that the US government deeply regrets the necessity for this latest screening exercise. However, he was quick to state that one has to understand what the alternative might be, as this is not just a US problem but a global problem.

"If that plane had gone down over United States on the 25th December, there would be people from at least 20 or 30 countries that would have died."

"This is very unfortunate, we regret this procedures that are now in place, but there are necessities in the world that we live with today," Fitzpatrick told this paper.

Quizzed as to whether critics may argue that with such measures, genuine travellers or visa seekers will be unfairly treated, the US Consular Officer noted that they would try to keep that to the minimum.

This, he pointed out, is part of the global struggle against terrorism, and is meant for people that are flying to the United States, and who will see increased measures in numerous other countries.

According to Mr. Fitzpatrick, it is not just the United States. "We realise the gravity of the situation, and unfortunately, it may occasionally affect the genuine travellers, our visa applicants, but that is the price to pay for greater security when one needs to travel. It is unfortunate, but it is a necessity."

"For the ones that are state sponsors of terrorism, we don't feel that these measures are too harsh."

"I must say that even many of the US citizens travelling to the US are subjected to this screening, and not only those travellers coming from these 14 countries," he further stated.

Read more on this interview in our subsequent issues.