Saturday, January 16, 2010

Eight-year-old Michael Hicks named on terror watchlist

IS little Mikey really a terrorist? That is the question America is asking after it emerged that the eight-year-old Cub Scout from New Jersey is frisked every time he flies because his name is on a US terror watchlist.

Michael "Mikey" Hicks, whose father is a US Navy veteran and mother a photojournalist who has flown with the US vice-president, has been the target of extra security measures at airports since he was 2.

"Why would a kid be a terrorist?" he asks.

Michael is not on the US Government's "no-fly" list of 2,500 people considered too dangerous to be allowed into the air. However, his name appears to be among, or to closely match, one of the 13,500 on the "selectee" list who are singled out for extra airport security.

His parents first learnt of his status when they could not get him a seat for a flight to Florida because, as an airline official explained, he was "on the list". He was patted down for the first time aged 2 as he passed through Newark airport in New Jersey.

Michael has been asked to see the supervisor whenever he checks in for a flight. On a recent trip to the Bahamas he was frisked on the way out and searched more aggressively on the return flight.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is charged with trying to explode a bomb, was identified as a possible problem when his father in Nigeria alerted the US Embassy that he had expressed extreme views before disappearing.

The US Government added Mr Abdulmutallab to the 550,000-name Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database. But his name was not added to the "no-fly" list or the "selectee" list, so he was able to get on a US-bound plane without attracting extra attention. Hundreds of people have been added to these lists since the breakdown was identified.

The United States, though, is deeply reluctant to start profiling passengers by singling out Muslims.

Instead the Obama Administration has taken an intermediate step by ordering full-body pat-downs for all US-bound passengers from Nigeria and 13 other countries where the US suspects that terrorists operate.

On its website, the Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for airport security, insists that no eight-year-old boy is on the "no-fly" list.

"Airlines can and should automatically deselect any eight-year-olds out there that appear to be on a watchlist," it says. "Whether you're 8 or 80 the most common occurrence is name confusion and individuals are told they are on the no-fly list when, in fact, they are not."

Michael's mother, Najlah Feanny Hicks, has enlisted the help of her congressman to get the listing removed. "You could have seen that he was 2; that he was 3, 4 or 5. Now it's scary because he's 8. What happens when he is 16?" she asked on the television channel CBS2.

The Australian

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