African airports in security boost amid attack threat

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Airport staff from 20 African countries started security training Monday to bring safety standards up to international levels in the face of the threat from militants and hijackers.

From police to cargo handlers, the group kicked off a programme led by African and French experts that they are to pass on to their colleagues on the continent.

Audits by the African Civil Aviation Organisation "have shown that there are imperfections we need to correct," said Agency for Security in Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar director general Ousmane Guitteye.

The Dakar-headquartered agency includes 17 African nations and France, and is responsible for air traffic control and communication in an air space of 16 million square kilometres (6.2 million square miles).

France has provided one million euros (1.4 million dollars) for civil aviation security training over three years.

"The terrorist threat continues to hang over air transport. Africa is not spared from this menace," said French ambassador to Senegal, Nicolas Normand, in the company of aviation officials.

Normand recalled the blowing up of a UTA civil airliner over Niger in 1989 and said that "several hijackings and threatened attacks" have been foiled on the continent.

"We've realised that all the necessary safeguards are not in place" in many African airports, he added.

Security fears were raised when a 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to blow up a US jet on Christmas Day last year was found to have flown from Accra to Lagos before heading to Amsterdam to catch the US-bound plane.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly had plastic explosives stitched into his underwear but they failed to detonate. He is facing terror charges in the United States.

© 2011 AFP

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