Washington (AFP) – The United States warned Tuesday that extremists plan to target passenger jets with bombs hidden in electronic devices, and banned carrying them onto flights from 10 Middle East airports.
Senior US officials told reporters that nine airlines from eight countries had been given 96 hours, beginning at 3:00 am (0700 GMT), to ban devices bigger than a cellphone or smartphone from the cabin.
Laptops, tablets and portable game consoles are affected by the ban — which applies to direct flights to the United States — but they may still be stowed in the hold in checked baggage.
Passengers on approximately 50 flights per day from some of the busiest hubs in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa will be obliged to follow the new emergency ruling.
“The restrictions are in place due to evaluated intelligence and we think it’s the right thing to do and the right places to do it to secure the safety of the traveling public,” one US official said.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, refused to discuss the “intelligence information” that led the Transportation Security Administration to issue the order.
But one said that concerns had been “heightened by several successful events and attacks on passenger lanes and airports over the last years.”
– No end date –
The official would not go into detail about which attacks had raised fears, but did cite an incident from February of last year in which suspected Somali Islamists blew a hole in the side of Daallo Airlines passenger jet with a small device. Only the bomber was killed and the plane landed safely.
CNN quoted a US official as saying the ban was believed to be related to a threat posed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP.
“Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,” an official said.
The airports touched by the ban are Queen Alia International in Amman, Jordan; Cairo International in Egypt; Ataturk in Istanbul, Turkey; King Abdulaziz International in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Khalid International in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait International; Mohammed V International in Casablanca, Morocco; Hamad International in Doha, Qatar; and the Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports in the United Arab Emirates.
No US carriers make direct flights from these airports, so they are unaffected by the ban, which will hit Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
The airlines and their host governments have already been informed of the order by US officials, and some of them have begun informing passengers about the restriction.
Airlines will be responsible for policing the cabin ban, and if they fail to do so could lose their rights to operate US routes.
No end date has been put on the order, and officials would not say whether the restriction might spread to other airports.