The Transportation Security Administration on March 21 issued new guidance to airlines and passengers travelling to the United States from ten airports in eight majority Muslim countries. The revised rules were scheduled to go into effect later in the week. The new electronic devices ban will prohibit the carriage of larger electronic devices into the passenger cabin of aircraft departing from specific, identified airports with a destination in the United States. These items may only be transported in the cargo bay of the aircraft. Although the TSA did not provide specifics on the intelligence that resulted in the new rule, it would seem apparent that investigators determined the prohibited devices were being considered as a vehicle for transporting explosives or even as an IED by extremist groups, most notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or by elements of the Islamic State (ISIS).
The prohibited items include all electronic devices larger than a cell phone and would include laptops and Ipads, Kindles and electronic games larger than a phone. Also included would be portable printers and other devices such as cameras and DVD players.
The US-bound flights that will be affected include all those originating from airports in Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Since no US carriers fly from these airports, the rule will affect foreign carriers only. Some 50 US-bound flights operate from these airports on a daily basis. We note that certain countries listed in President Trump’s new travel ban are not on this list inasmuch as flights do not operate from those countries directly to the US. The TSA rule did not specify how long the new devices ban would be in effect. An Emirates Airline spokesperson stated however that the rule is in effect through October, 2017.
Notably, the UK government issued its own related ban on the 21st as well. However, the UK rule effects flights operating to and from British airports and includes six UK airlines: British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson. Eight foreign carriers are affected. The ban affects flights to the United Kingdom from the same countries identified in the US ban, with the notable exception of flights originating in the UAE. Other European countries and Canada have been briefed on the pertinent intelligence and are considering their course of action.
The new measures provoked immediate backlash from both airline representatives and watchdog groups, with many accusing the Trump administration of imposing yet more rules on Muslims or Muslim country airlines just because it is popular with his base. The TSA begs to differ however and retorted that the new measures are in response to continued interest displayed by terrorist groups in striking the aviation sector. By the end of the day on Tuesday, word filtered out that the specific threat centers on attempts to disguise explosives or explosive devices in the now restricted portable devices. Terrorist attacks on the aviation sector have devastating physical and psychological effects, as was seen in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US as well as in subsequent, failed attempts.
Examples of attacks by extremist groups against aircraft or transportation hubs over the past two years include the May 2015 bombing of an airliner in Egypt, the attempted airliner downing in Somalia last year and the armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul, which were also carried out in 2016. Years earlier, AQAP placed an operative on board a Delta Airlines flight operating to Detroit from Amsterdam wearing explosive-laced underwear. In 2002, in what has become known as the “shoe bomber” case, Richard Reid, a radicalized extremist with ties to Al Qaeda, attempted to blow up a Miami-bound American Airlines flight which took off from Paris. Just last weekend, French police shot and killed an extremist after he attempted to wrest a weapon from a soldier while she was patrolling a sector of Paris-Orly airport.