Passenger had 7 knives, stun gun and tear-gas

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The Independent US

A wide ranging investigation started yesterday after a man carrying seven knives, a stun gun and a tear-gas canister passed through a security checkpoint at one of America's busiest airports.

A wide ranging investigation started yesterday after a man carrying seven knives, a stun gun and a tear-gas canister passed through a security checkpoint at one of America's busiest airports.

Subash Gurung, a Nepalese student with an expired visa, was prevented from getting on the United Airlines plane by the crew, which checked his hand-luggage as he was trying to board at Chicago's O'Hare international airport.

Security staff had apparently confiscated two other knives, which the 27-year-old said were in his pockets, but had failed to look inside his bag. Mr Gurung said: "It happens out of accident, in a hurry."

The authorities are convinced that Mr Gurung, who was heading for Omaha, Nebraska, has no links to terrorist groups, but the incident has highlighted inadequate security at many American airports despite the 11 September attacks. Norman Mineta, the US Transportation Secretary, said: "The O'Hare failure was a case of dramatic dimensions."

The incident has also been seized on by those who wish to see the federal government take direct charge of security at airports, rather than offering the contracts to private companies that tender the best prices. President George Bush has recommended the US government oversee training and equipment, but has stopped short of requiring security staff to be federal employees.

The company that operates the security checkpoints at O'Hare, the Atlanta-based Argenbright Security, said eight employees including one supervisor had been suspended pending an internal company investigation. A spokesman said that they would be fired only if the investigation showed "there was wrongdoing".

But last month, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department announced an audit of screeners employed by Argenbright, which operates at 14 airports, after the company admitted it had failed to verify employees' backgrounds even after being fined $1.6m (about £1m).

Mr Gurung, who was held without bail after appearing in court, said that he was a collector of knives and carried the stun gun for protection. Law enforcement officials said he told them he had mistakenly packed the knives in a plastic bag rather than in his luggage, before leaving for the airport. One report said the weapons discovered also included a pepper spray.

Mr Gurung's bag would have been passed through an X-ray machine by the private security staff. "I was living there in Chicago and I don't have any friends at the time," he said. "Two years I was completely alone there, totally insecure and lonely there."

Chicago police charged Mr Gurung with two misdemeanors and released him on bond early on Sunday. The FBI rearrested him on a federal charge later the same day when he returned to O'Hare to retrieve his luggage.

Monique Bond, a spokes-woman for the Chicago Department of Aviation, said: "Something obviously went seriously wrong here, and we're trying to find if it's the employees' fault. If weapons were confiscated, he should never have been let through security."

The Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, said the incident at O'Hare on Saturday should "trigger an even greater resolve to get this job [of improving airport security] done immediately". He said: "I am convinced that if we start talking, working with each other in good faith, we can find that solution, and that's exactly what we need to do, and we need to start today."

At Gatwick, four Britons were arrested after weapons including a stun gun and combat knives was allegedly found in their luggage as they arrived from America. The men were stopped by police as they passed through the green customs channel at the airport on their way home from Orlando, Florida, on Saturday afternoon.

Customs officers found that bags belonging to the passengers contained at least nine weapons, including the Tazer stun gun and two "particularly vicious" knives. Also in the baggage, which was not carried as hand luggage, were five sets of knuckle-dusters and a pepper spray. Sussex Police said there was no link with the September attacks.

Ben Harrington, 21, from Woodhatch, Reigate, will appear before Crawley Magistrates on Friday charged with possessing an offensive weapon.