US, UK ban large electronics on some flights from Middle East, Africa | News | DW | 21.03.2017
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US, UK ban large electronics on some flights from Middle East, Africa

US officials are placing restrictions on passengers' carry-on items for some flights from the Middle East and North Africa. The UK has followed suit with a similar announcement.

US President Donald Trump's administration confirmed on Tuesday that it is imposing new restrictions on travelers coming into the United States from 10 airports located mainly in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Department of Homeland Security will now require people flying to the United States from airports in eight countries - Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco and Qatar - to check electronic devices larger than a cell phone such as tablets, laptops, cameras and portable DVD players.

The affected airports are located in Amman, Cairo, Kuwait City, Doha, Dubai, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Jeddah and Casablanca. All 10 airports are located in Muslim-majority countries.

Trump administration officials said the airlines will have 96 hours to implement the security order - otherwise, they will be barred from flying to the United States.

Mobile phones and medical devices will still be allowed in carry-on items.

Following Washington's announcement, the British government said it was banning laptops and tablets from cabins on flights to the UK from the following six countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

"We have been in close touch with the Americans to fully understand their position," a statement from British Prime Minister Theresa May's office said. "Airlines affected are being informed of the new requirements."

Turkey said it would ask Washington to reverse the large electronics ban after news of the new regulation broke.

"We particularly emphasise how this will not benefit the passenger and that reverse steps or a softening should be adopted," Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan told reporters, adding that the decision was not right.

Türkei Istanbul Flughafen Atatürk (Imago/A, Hettrich)

Turkish Airlines confirmed it was impacted by the new electronics restrictions

Airlines confirm restrictions

An spokeswoman with the Dubai-based Emirates told Reuters that the restrictions will be in place for seven months and will begin on Saturday.

"The directive comes into effect on 25 March 2017 and is valid until 14 October 2017," the Emirates spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "It is applicable to all US-bound passengers from Dubai International Airport, whether originating or transiting through."

Royal Jordanian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and EgyptAir also confirmed they will be affected by the new electronics restrictions while Etihad Airways told Reuters it had been advised of the changes.

No American airlines are due to be affected by the upcoming ban, as no US-based airlines have non-stop flights from those cities to the US, administration officials said.

Unspecified threat

US officials said the restrictions were prompted by "evaluated intelligence" about potential threats to airplanes bound for the United States. 

"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 told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Somalia Flugzeug nach Notlandung in Mogadischu (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Stringer)

One US official citied an incident where suspected Somali Islamists blew a hole in the side of a plane with a small device as a possible reason for security concerns

The officials also did not discuss the timing of the intelligence or if a particular group is thought to be planning an attack. They did, however, say that their concerns had been "heightened by several successful events and attacks on passenger lanes and airports over the last years."

An official cited one incident from February of last year in which suspected Somali Islamists blew a hole in the side of a Daallo Airlines passenger jet with a small device. Only the bomber was killed and the plane managed to land safely.

The announcement of the ban comes ahead of Wednesday's meeting of the US-led coalition against the so-called "Islamic State" group in Washington. Several top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering.

It was not immediately clear whether their travel plans were related to worries about security threats.

Passenger turbulence ahead

Some analysts expect headaches for people boarding flights. Aerospace science professor Jeffrey Price of Metropolitan State University of Denver said there would be problems for passengers being forced to put their electronics in their checked luggage. He argued that theft of electronics from baggage would increase, pointing to such a trend following a similar ban in Britain in 2006.

Price also noted that some laptops are equipped with batteries that can catch fire - but that such events are difficult to detect if laptops are stowed in the cargo hold.

rs, kbd/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)