US bans large electronic devices on flights from eight countries
New restrictions on passengers flying mainly from Middle East to take effect on Friday
US authorities are planning to ban passengers on certain US-bound foreign airline flights from taking electronic devices larger than mobile phones. File photograph: Getty Images
The Trump administration confirmed on Tuesday it is imposing new restrictions on electronic devices carried by travellers to the United States from 10 airports mainly in the Middle East and north Africa in response to unspecified terror threats.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will require passengers travelling to the United States from airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco and Qatar to check in electronic devices larger than a mobile phone such as tablets, portable DVD players, laptops and cameras.
Officials said the decision had nothing to do with US president Donald Trump’s efforts to impose a travel ban on six majority-Muslim nations. A DHS spokeswoman said the government “did not target specific nations. We relied upon evaluated intelligence to determine which airports were affected”.
On March 6th, Mr Trump signed a revised executive order banning citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from traveling to the United States for 90 days. Two federal judges have halted parts of the ban, saying it discriminates against Muslims. Mr Trump has vowed to appeal up to the Supreme Court if necessary.
All 10 airports are in majority-Muslim countries.
The airports are served by nine carriers that fly directly from those cities to the United States about 50 times a day and include Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways, senior government officials said.
The airlines have until Friday to comply with the new restrictions that will be in place indefinitely.
No American carriers were affected by the ban, because none fly directly to the United States from the airports, officials said. But it does apply to US citizens travelling on those flights. It does not apply to crew members on those foreign carriers.
Officials did not explain why the restrictions only apply to travellers arriving in the United States and not for those same flights when they leave the United States.
DHS will also allow passengers to use larger approved medical devices. The agency said the procedures would “remain in place until the threat changes” and did not rule out expanding to other airports if circumstances changed.
DHS said in a statement it “seeks to balance risk with impacts to the travelling public and has determined that cell phones and smart phones will be allowed in accessible property at this time”.
The new restrictions were prompted by reports that terror groups want to smuggle explosive devices in consumer electronic devices, officials told reporters on a conference call on Monday.
The government said in a statement it was “concerned about terrorists’ ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years”.
The group said “intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items”.
The government has been worried about terror groups attempting to bomb a commercial aircraft, but an official on the call repeatedly declined to offer any details about the threat that prompted the move.
Reuters reported on Monday that the move had been under consideration since the US government learned of a threat several weeks ago.
US officials have said the information gleaned from a US commando raid in January in Yemen which targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) included bomb-making techniques.
Aqap, based in Yemen, has plotted to down US airliners and claimed responsibility for 2015 attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. Aqap also has boasted of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.
In 2010, security officials in Britain and Dubai intercepted parcel bombs being sent from Yemen to the United States.
The group claimed responsibility for a December 25th, 2009 failed attempt by a Nigerian Islamist to down an airliner over Detroit. The device, hidden in the underwear of the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, failed to detonate.
In July 2014, the Homeland Security Department stepped up security of US-bound flights, requiring tougher screening of mobile phones and other electronic devices and requiring them to be powered up before passengers could board flights to the United States.