US, Britain ban laptops on flights from Turkey, Arab world

The UK government has issued an electronics ban on all devices measuring more than the average smartphone on flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

"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.

Canadian and French officials are considering imposing the same sort of measures, but Germany, Australia and New Zealand said they were not now mulling a ban.

CNN reported that according to a U.S. official, intelligence uncovered evidence that an Al-Qaeda affiliate was perfecting a technique that would be able to hide explosives in batteries and battery compartments of electronic devices such as laptops and tablets undetectable to airport security.

The move follows a United States ban on all large electronics in hand-luggage on flights from eight countries in north Africa, the Middle East and Turkey.

The ban, which included 10 airports in Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Morocco, excluded Israel, tweeted Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati professor of political science, adding that it is not "what one expects from a friendly country".

Senior US officials told reporters that nine airlines from eight countries had been given 96 hours to ban devices bigger than a mobile phone from the cabin.

"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", a senior U.S. official said.

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British officials said there is no specific time frame to implement Britain's new rules, and airlines are deciding that question.

Passengers travelling to the U.S. from these airports in eight countries can not carry cameras and laptops as cabin baggage under a new president Donald Trump administration order.

Officials in both Britain and the United States would not give any details on what exactly prompted the bans.

French and Canadian officials said they were examining their arrangements but neither government was taking additional security measures at this stage. The British airlines affected are British Airways, easyJet, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Monarch and Jet2.com.

CNN quoted a USA official as saying the ban was believed to be related to a threat posed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. "The (threat) information", he said, "has been provided to us by other intelligence communities". This Somalia incident occurred due to someone smuggling a device onto a Daallo Airlines flight past year.

"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. Everything else, the airline said, would need to be packed in checked luggage.

Canadian and French officials are considering whether to impose similar measures, but Germany, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand said they are not now mulling a ban.

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.

  • Rita Burton