Russia Tightens Airport Security

Russian airline passengers last week confronted a pre-boarding ritual that has become old hat to travelers in America since Sept. 11, 2001.

The Russians began peeling off watches, belts and shoes to comply with tough new screening requirements.

The airport security procedures are part of Russia's emerging response to the wave of deadly terrorist attacks. Many complain that Russia's war on terrorism is being implemented slowly and in piecemeal fashion. But the Beslan school massacre in early September shocked leaders into crisis footing, prompting a frenzy of countermeasures that resemble the anti-terrorism campaign in the United States.

Most Russians seemingly welcome whatever it takes to rid their country of a menace that has dramatically altered their way of life. Over the last five years, terrorists have blown up apartment houses, planted bombs in subways and seized a theater.

This year has been the worst by far. Of the nearly 900 terrorism-related deaths since 1999, 470 have occurred since February. In August, two Russian airliners blew up almost simultaneously in midair, killing 90. A week later, a suicide bomber blew herself up outside a subway terminal, killing 10.

Then came the horror of Beslan, a small community in southern Russia. On Sept. 1, terrorists seized a school, fortified it with explosives, and took more than 1,000 parents, teachers and pupils hostage.

When the siege ended after three days, 331 were dead, including 172 children.

Only a few persons at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport grumbled about the new security measures. Starting Friday, passengers are required to remove anything that might contain metal, including shoes, as airport metal detectors have been set to detect smaller amounts of the substance.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia also is looking at some sort of color-coded terrorism warning system similar to America's. President Vladimir Putin is calling for a new anti-terrorism agency that could incorporate elements patterned after the U.S. Homeland Security Department. There are also demands for a massive overhaul of Russia's corrupt and poorly trained security forces.