Electronic devices banned on some US flights

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Flights to the US from Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s largest hubs, will be among those affected (AP)

(BBC) The US has announced a ban on large electronic devices from cabin baggage on flights from eight countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

Bombs could be hidden in laptops, tablets, cameras, DVD players and electronic games, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.

The measure will affect nine airlines operating out of 10 airports. Phones are exempt from the new rules.

The UK is set to introduce a similar ban on laptops shortly.

Downing Street said airline passengers are to be banned from carrying laptops in cabin luggage on inbound direct flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The Turkish government has said the US ban is wrong and should be reversed.

Large electronic devices will only be allowed on board in checked baggage.

Passengers on some 50 flights a day from some of the busiest hubs in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa will be required to follow the new rules.

Which flights are affected?

The nine airlines affected by the US ban are Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

They have been given 96 hours, beginning at 07:00 GMT on Tuesday, to ban devices bigger than a mobile phone or smartphone from cabins, US officials said, adding that the ban had no end date.

The airports affected are:

  1. Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco
  2. Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
  3. Cairo International Airport, Egypt
  4. Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan
  5. King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  6. King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  7. Kuwait International Airport
  8. Hamad International, Doha, Qatar
  9. Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates
  10. Dubai International, United Arab Emirates

However, an Emirates spokeswoman told Reuters news agency the airline understood that the directive would come into effect on 25 March and remain valid until 14 October 2017.

Why now?

The restriction is based, we are told, on “evaluated intelligence”, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner writes.

That means that US intelligence has either intercepted discussion of a possible extremist plot or has been passed word of one by a human informant.

The Middle Eastern and North African airports affected are nearly all ones with close, friendly relations with Washington, so this will be seen by some as a drastic and unpopular measure. Wealthy Gulf Arab business leaders flying to the US, for example, will no longer be able to work on their laptops mid-flight.

But aviation security experts were alarmed by an incident in Somalia last year when the insurgent group al-Shabaab smuggled an explosive-filled laptop on a flight out of Mogadishu, blowing a hole in the side of the plane. The aircraft was still low enough that the pilot was able to land the plane safely.

How did the US justify the ban?

In a statement, the DHS cited attacks on planes and airports over the past two years.

Bombs, it said, had been hidden in such items as a soft drink can, in the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt in October 2015 with the loss of 224 lives, and the laptop used in the unsuccessful Somali attack last year.

“Terrorists have historically tried to hide explosives in shoes in 2001, use liquid explosives in 2006, and conceal explosives in printers in 2010 and suicide devices in underwear in 2009 and 2012,” it noted.

So-called Islamic State said it bombed the Russian plane over Egypt (AP)

“Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,” the DHS said.

The restrictions are believed to have been under consideration for several weeks.

Jamil al-Qsous, a former Jordanian aviation security official, told the Associated Press news agency that the ban meant “one less headache” for security agencies.

He said security measures at Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport were among the most stringent in the region but the Americans had nonetheless taken “the right decision”.

What do the critics say?

Turkish Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan told reporters the ban was “not a right move”.

Ataturk Airport, which has stringent security checks in place, was attacked last year (Reuters)

“We particularly emphasise how this will not benefit the passenger and that reverse steps or a softening should be adopted,” he added.

Philip Baum, editor in chief of Aviation Security magazine, told the BBC: “If we cannot, in 2017, distinguish between a laptop that contains an IED [improvised explosive device] and one that does not, then our screening process is completely flawed.

“And encouraging people to check laptops, and other such items, into the luggage hold simply makes the challenge even harder. Cabin baggage can, at least, be inspected piece by piece and the accompanying passenger questioned.

“Surely the lesson of the Yemen printer toner cartridge devices was that bulk screening is not always up to the task and that common sense should rule – the devices were found due to an alert Emirati security guard, not by X-ray or trace detection technologies.”

Is this linked to the Trump travel ban?

Officials quoted by Reuters news agency said the new measure was not connected to US President Donald Trump’s efforts to ban travellers from six Muslim-majority states.

On 6 March, the US leader signed a revised executive order barring citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from travelling to the US for 90 days.

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the ban, which had been due to take effect last week.

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