WASHINGTON - SIKH Americans are protesting at what they say is a new policy at US airports to screen their turbans systematically, voicing fear the move would further stigmatise their faith.

US officials have not confirmed a change in policy and insisted they respected religious beliefs. But they said security measures necessitated checks on 'bulky' clothing such as turbans, which Sikh men are required by faith to wear.

A group of Sikh American groups said they met several weeks ago with representatives of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who told them that airports would now screen turbans with hand-wands at all times.

Current policy is erratic, with New York City airports rarely conducting secondary searches on Sikhs but airports in other cities such as Chicago and San Francisco doing so routinely, said Amardeep Singh, co-founder of the Sikh Coalition advocacy group.

'The TSA told us, point blank, that turbans will now be screened 100 per cent of the time,' Mr Singh told AFP on Monday.

The community suffered a wave of hate crimes in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks by assailants who mistakenly associated Sikh men - who are also required to wear beards - with Osama bin Laden and radical Islam.

Sikhs slam turban searches