WASHINGTON A prominent Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation said Tuesday that the Obama administrations decision to mandate extra scrutiny - including full-body pat downs - for people flying into the United States from 14 Muslim countries amounted to religious profiling. The statement by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) came as the decision provoked widespread criticism and scepticism. CAIR said the new guidelines will disproportionately target American Muslims who have family or spiritual ties to the Islamic world and therefore amount to religious and ethnic profiling. Under these new guidelines, almost every American Muslim who travels to see family or friends or goes on pilgrimage to Makkah will automatically be singled out for special security checks - thats profiling, said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. While singling out travellers based on religion and national origin may make some people feel safer, it only serves to alienate and stigmatise Muslims and does nothing to improve airline security. We all support effective security measures that will protect the travelling public from an attack such as that attempted on Christmas Day, added Awad. But knee-jerk policies will not address this serious challenge to public safety. In a commentary distributed Tuesday by CAIR challenging calls for profiling, Awad suggested alternatives to faith-based security checks: First look at behaviour, not at faith or skin colour. Then spend what it takes to obtain more bomb-sniffing dogs, to install more sophisticated bomb-detection equipment and to train security personnel in identifying the behaviour of real terror suspects. He noted that the behaviour of the alleged Christmas Day bomber, not his national origin or faith, should have prevented him from ever boarding the flight. Suspicious behaviour of the alleged bomber included paying cash for his ticket and checking in without luggage. Awad also cited an editorial published Tuesday by the by the San Diego Union-Tribune, which states in part: But aside from the moral objections, as weve seen, profiling by characteristic isnt very efficient. The minute US officials put out the word that theyre not scrutinising people with blonde hair and blue eyes is the minute that al-Qaeda starts recruiting people with blonde hair and blue eyes. Would looking for Arab-Americans have turned up a passenger that resembled 'American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh? Would applying extra scrutiny to people with foreign-sounding names have kept would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid off a plane? Meanwhile, The New York Times cited American counterterrorism officials as saying the increased checks reflected mounting concern about the threat posed by foreign-based extremists and dissatisfaction with security in certain airports overseas. We are only as strong as our weakest point, Cindy Farkus, the head of global security programmes at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was quoted as saying. We are always trying to stay ahead of where the emerging threats might be. Passengers arriving at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York on overseas flights late Monday described the security changes. Several women flying from Qatar reported being subjected to pat downs that included an uncomfortable probing of their private areas, The Times said. But most of the passengers interviewed said they did not object to the extra scrutiny, the newspaper said. The revised rules, which apply to airlines that fly to the United States, were imposed by an agency that has long insisted that it avoided racial or ethnic profiling. But Transportation Security Administration officials said they had concluded in the past week that no technology now in place globally would let them comprehensively scan every passenger. Deploying such equipment worldwide would take years. Checking all passengers manually in the interim would be too disruptive, they said. In consultation with the State Department, they decided to narrow the list of countries where such checks would be mandatory to those whose populations would more likely include terrorism suspects, the Times said. Other passengers will be randomly checked. Under the new rules, all citizens of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen must receive a pat down and an extra check of their carry-on bags before boarding a plane bound for the United States, officials said. Citizens of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria - nations considered state sponsors of terrorism - face the same requirement. Leaders of the affected countries argued that the United States had essentially declared their entire population suspects and created a two-tier system for air travel. It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behaviour of one person, Dora Akunyili, Nigerias information minister, said Monday, referring to a 23-year-old Nigerian man accused of hiding explosives in his underwear on a Dec 25 flight to Detroit. The Algerian ambassador to the United States, Abdallah Baali, said he would file a protest once he was given formal notice of the change. The United States has the right to protect the security of its citizens, Baali was quoted as saying. But this is discrimination against the citizens of Algeria, who do not pose any particular risk to the people of the United States. Americans travelling overseas will also frequently be subjected to some additional security measures before boarding a plane to the United States, officials said. But if a passenger is not from one of these 14 countries or has not taken a flight that originated or passed through them, the added screening will not be mandatory, the Times said. Transportation security officials on Monday defended the new measures. TSA does not profile, said Kristin Lee, an agency spokeswoman. As is always the case, TSA security measures are based on threat, not ethnic or religious background. Some counterterrorism experts question how effective the new measures will be, the newspaper said. Rick Nelson, a retired Navy commander and former supervisor at the National Counterterrorism Centre, said terrorists could turn to a technique perfected by drug couriers - hiding explosive materials in body cavities. Instead of mandating pat downs, he argued, the United States must improve its intelligence network to disrupt plots before would-be terrorists reach airport checkpoints. We have to be careful not to play into the narrative that Al-Qaeda has made up, where it is Islam versus the West, he said. We risk alienating the moderate populations that we need to be successful against Al-Qaeda.