Britain and US Will Ban Electronic Devices on Flights From Middle Eastern Nations Amid Terror Threat
Steven Swinford, Telegraph, March 22, 2017
British passengers on holiday flights from the Middle East and North Africa will be banned within days from carrying laptops, tablets and other electronic devices on board after security services identified a new al-Qaeda terrorist threat.
More than 2 million passengers a year flying on airlines including British Airways, Thomson, Thomas Cook and Easyjet will be prevented from taking devices larger than a mobile phone into the cabin.
Instead, anyone flying from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia will have to put electronic devices in their hold luggage, despite concerns they could be stolen or damaged.
The Government introduced the ban after a similar move by the US, where officials revealed “evaluated intelligence” showed that terrorists are “aggressively pursuing innovative measures” to carry out attacks with devices such as laptop bombs.
The intelligence is believed to have come from a raid by US Navy Seals in Yemen in January, which targeted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP). It resulted in the death of a soldier, but yielded “important intelligence”, according to President Donald Trump.
Reports at the time said AQAP’s bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri was trying to build compact bombs containing only trace amounts of metal that can be smuggled onto planes.
US security analysts are also said to have picked up increased “chatter” in recent weeks from militants saying they want to hide explosives in computers.
Last year the insurgent group al-Shabaab smuggled an explosive-filled laptop on a flight out of Mogadishu, Somalia, blowing a hole in the side of a plane.
The ban, which has been under consideration for weeks, represents the most significant restriction on air travel since the Government banned passengers from carrying liquids of more than 100ml in their carry-on baggage in 2006.
Theresa May’s official spokesman admitted that the restrictions will cause “disruption”, but said that they are necessary for the safety of passengers.
The spokesman said: “Safety of the travelling public is our highest priority. That is why we keep aviation security under constant review and put in place measures that are necessary, effective and proportionate.
“Over the last few weeks, the PM has chaired a number of meetings on aviation security, most recently this morning, where it was agreed new measures will be introduced.”
Insurers warned that laptops and tablets are not typically covered by policies for loss, damage or theft if they are placed in the hold.
Industry experts said that an estimated 2.4million people fly from the six nations to the UK every year, many of them holidaymakers.
Airlines will be given a few days to adjust to the new regulations, and those which refuse to do so will be barred from flying to the UK.
It will also affect those flying with foreign carriers including Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airways, Atlas-Global, Egyptair, Tunisair, Royal Jordanian, Saudi and Middle East airlines.
Anyone who flies on an aircraft which starts its journey outside the six countries but which stops in one of those countries en route to Britain will have to stow their devices in the hold from the start of the first leg of their flight.
The US restrictions are wider and also apply to those flying from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Morocco.
Mrs May’s official spokesman added: “’The additional security measures may cause some disruption for passengers and flights, and we understand the frustration that will cause, but our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals.”
He said: “We understand the frustration that these measures may cause and we are working with the aviation industry to minimise any impact.
“Our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals.
“These new measures apply to flights into the UK and we are not currently advising against flying to and from those countries.”
He added: “We remain open for business. People should continue to fly and comply with security procedures.”
The ban explicitly refers only to direct flights to Britain, leaving a potential loophole for people who fly via other European hubs. Government sources suggested that other European nations are likely to follow the UK’s example.
The US Department for Homeland Security said the procedures would “remain in place until the threat changes”, and did not rule out extending them.
John Strickland, an air industry consultant, said that while the ban will cause “headaches for airlines and customers” but said carriers have “no choice but to put security first” when official advice is given.
Asked why the US ban extended to more countries than the UK ban, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We have spoken closely [with the US authorities] but have each taken our own decision.”
Extending the restriction to the UAE would, however, have caused significantly more disruption for British passengers because Dubai – which is considered to have high security standards – is one of the world’s biggest hub airports and is hugely popular with British tourists.