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US suspends no-visa, air transit programmes

Washington, Aug. 2 (Reuters): Two programmes that allow foreigners to travel through US airports on their way to other countries without a visa were suspended today because of security concerns, the department of homeland security said.

The Transit Without Visa and International to International transit programmes had allowed foreigners, who would normally need a visa to visit the US, to connect to another international flight without the paperwork.

Recent intelligence indicates that terrorist groups have been planning to use the programmes to enter the United States or US airspace without being first screened, the department said in a statement announcing the suspensions.

“The steps announced today, while aggressive, are an appropriate response to the threat,” homeland security secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement. “We know they will have an impact on international travellers, but we believe they are necessary in order to protect lives and property.”

The agency issued a warning to airlines and law enforcement personnel late last month about possible airplane hijackings or bombings and expressed particular concern about people connecting from one international flight to another at US airport without a visa.

The state department and department of homeland security said they plan to reinstate the two programmes after more security measures are put in place but for now they instructed airlines to stop allowing passengers to use them.

The Transit Without Visa, which began in 1952, permitted passengers who need a visa for entering the United States to stop at up to two US airports and change planes for another foreign destination without a visa.

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