Date
19 August 2017
The moves were prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices inside electronic gadgets. Photo: Reuters
The moves were prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices inside electronic gadgets. Photo: Reuters

US, Britain curb devices on flights from Mideast, North Africa

The United States and Britain imposed restrictions on carry-on electronic devices on planes coming from certain airports in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa in response to unspecified security threats.

The US Department of Homeland Security said passengers traveling from a specific list of airports could not bring into the main cabin devices larger than a mobile phone such as tablets, portable DVD players, laptops and cameras, Reuters reports.

Such items must be in checked baggage, according to the new rules.

Although civil liberties groups raised concerns that US President Donald Trump was seeking another limit on movement after a travel ban from Muslim-majority countries was challenged in the courts, Britain took similar steps.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said there would be curbs on electronic items in the cabin on flights from six countries in the Middle East. The foreign office said the measures would be implemented by March 25.

The moves were prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices inside electronic gadgets.

The ban would continue for the “foreseeable future”, a US government official said on Tuesday, adding that it was possible it could be extended to other airports and other countries.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to talk about the intelligence that prompted the new steps or explain why some countries were left off the list.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said he “spoke to the intelligence community over the weekend, and this is a real threat”.

US officials say militant groups are known for innovative bomb designs, including embedding them inside computers.

Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also has boasted of one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.

French and Canadian officials said they were examining their arrangements but neither government was taking additional security measures at this stage.

The airports covered by the US restrictions are in Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Doha, Qatar; Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.

The affected airports are served by nine airlines that fly directly from those cities to the United States about 50 times a day, senior government officials said.

The carriers – Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways – have until Friday to adopt the new policy, which took effect on Tuesday.

No US airlines are on the list because there are no direct flights on them between the United States and the cited airports, officials said.

Britain said its restrictions would apply to direct flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The British regulations affect British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook, Thomson, Atlas-Global, Pegasus, EgyptAir, Royal Jordanian, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, Turkish Airlines and Tunisair.

IAG-owned British Airways advised customers departing from affected airports to arrive in good time at check-in.

A US government source said that while the restrictions arose from multiple reports of security threats, some recent intelligence had arrived that prompted the current alert.

US authorities believe there is a threat from plots similar to an incident last year in Somalia, where a bomb hidden in a laptop blew a hole in the side of a plane but failed to down it, another source said.

However, some experts questioned whether the limited ban could improve security and said it is complicated by aviation safety concerns about lithium-powered batteries used in many electronic items catching fire in the hold.

Matthew Finn, managing director at security consultants Augmentiq, said placing such devices in the hold, rather than in the cabin, made little sense.

That’s because improvised explosive devices could be triggered via a variety of mechanisms, including a small mobile phone that would still be in the cabin.

Bruce Schneier, security technologist and lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, disagreed.

“Forcing it in the plane’s hold would make it much harder to detonate, since the terrorist has to design an automatic mechanism rather than doing it manually,” he said.

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CG

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