WASHINGTON / LONDON – The United States and Britain on Tuesday 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.
A US government source said that while the restrictions arose from multiple reports of security threats, some very recent intelligence had arrived which helped to trigger the timing of the current alert.
The US Department of Homeland Security said passengers travelling from a specific list of airports could not bring into the main cabin devices that are larger than a mobile phone such as tablets, portable DVD players, laptops and cameras.
Instead, such items must be in checked baggage.
Although US 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 that there would be curbs on electronic items in the main cabin on flights from six countries in the Middle East. The foreign office said the measures would be implemented by March 25.
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
The moves were prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices inside electronic gadgets, US officials told reporters on Monday.
“The US government is concerned about terrorists’ ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years,” a US counter-terrorism official said in a statement, adding that efforts were “intensifying.”
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 airports affected by the US electronics rules 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 affected 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 early 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.
Shares in IAG turned lower after the announcement by the UK government, with easyJet also ending the day in negative territory.
News reports on Monday said the move had been under consideration since the US government learned of a threat several weeks ago.
US authorities believe there is a threat from plots similar to an incident a year ago in Somalia, where a bomb hidden in a laptop blew a hole in the side of a plane although failed to down it, another source said.
Angela Gittens, director general of airport association ACI World, likened the move to restrictions on liquids aboard planes, which she said also came suddenly in response to a perceived threat and had caused some disruption.
“The first few days of something like this are quite problematic, but just as with the liquids ban, it will start to sort itself out,” she said.
US officials said the decision had nothing to do with Trump’s efforts to impose a travel ban on citizens of six majority-Muslim nations.
On March 6, Trump signed a revised executive order barring citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from travelling to the United States for 90 days. Two federal judges have halted parts of the ban although Trump has vowed to appeal.
While Democrats have criticized Republican Trump’s travel ban, Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee said he backed the new precautions.
“These steps are both necessary and proportional to the threat. We know that terrorist organizations want to bring down aircraft and have continued to employ creative ways to try and outsmart detection methods,” Schiff said in a statement.
However, human rights group Amnesty International said the restrictions raised “serious concerns that this could be yet more bigotry disguised as policy”.