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PARIS (Reuters) - France's interior minister wants to add 23 countries to a list of places whose air travelers face tighter security measures, in response to the botched bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner last month.
In comments published in Le Figaro newspaper on Wednesday, Brice Hortefeux did not specify which countries he wanted to add to a list that now includes only Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Algeria and Mali.
The paper speculated Nigeria would feature, given that the suspected bomber was from there. The United States has already added it to its own watch-list, drawing angry protests from the Nigerian government.
"We have to expand the list of zones at risk from seven to 30 countries," said Hortefeux, one of President Nicolas Sarkozy's closest allies.
"This is not about stigmatizing the countries concerned, but we have to take into account the transit points of radical Islamist networks."
Speaking on French radio on Wednesday, he gave a more vague total of 20-30 countries.
The Interior Ministry was not immediately able to comment on the report or give details on the existing watch-list.
Airports around the world have rushed to improve security after the failed attack, using full-body scanners, pat-downs and increased watchfulness. Jittery officials have also contributed to a slew of scares, including the shut-down of a California airport over a jar of honey.
Airlines flying from the listed countries to France will need to report information on their passengers to authorities in advance.
In future, the interior ministry wants travelers' details to be registered when the ticket is booked rather than during check-in, giving security services more time to spot suspicious profiles, the newspaper said.
Hortefeux said on the radio thousands of extra police had already been deployed to airports, and that all travelers heading to the United States were patted down, even if they were not from the countries on the risk list.
"This does not mean that the (listed) governments support terrorism, but sometimes they don't have the means to fight against terrorism, as for example in Mali," he said on the radio. "The threat exists on our territory, too."
Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is suspected of having tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, after undergoing training with al Qaeda in Yemen.
Reporting by Sophie Hardach, additional reporting by Gregory Blanchier; Editing by Charles Dick