An unspecified terror threat prompted the Trump administration to impose a temporary ban on carry-on electronics on flights traveling to the U.S. from eight Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa Tuesday, March 21.
The new restriction prohibits passengers traveling from airports in Cairo, Kuwait City, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among other Islamic nations, from bringing large electronics like cameras, laptops, tablets and portable DVD players into the plane’s main cabin, according to Department of Homeland Security officials. Instead, such devices must be in checked baggage.
CNBC reported that the sudden ban, seemingly enacted overnight, was in response to reports that militant groups were looking to smuggle explosive devices in common electronics. Such an incident occurred last year after a laptop exploded on a Somali passenger plane.
“Terrorists have historically tried to hide explosives in shoes in 2001, use liquid explosives in 2006, conceal explosives in printers in 2010 and suicide devices in underwear in 2009 and 2012,” DHS said in a statement. “Within the last year, we have also seen attacks conducted at airports to include Brussels and Istanbul.”
Airports located in Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates are among those affected by the ban. The carriers, which include Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways have until Friday, March 24, to adhere to the new policies.
Government officials said the restrictions would be in place indefinitely, but a spokeswoman for the Dubai-based Emirates airline told CNBC that Trump’s security decree would last only until Oct. 14.
DHS hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
Amid heightened concern over possible terror attacks, aviation consultant and former airline captain Trevor Jansen said storing large numbers of laptops with lithium batteries in the hold also poses a safety risk.
“I hope that we are not just knee-jerking here and that this is a credible threat, that the safety issues have also been very carefully thought through,” Jansen told Al Jazeera.
The former captain also pointed out how only certain airlines were affected by the ban, and how the guidelines only applied to travelers arriving in the U.S. The same flights leaving the U.S. would not be affected by the new restrictions.
“If this was a credible threat, I think they would be looking at other airports,” he continued. “Because, why couldn’t you fly from Doha, for example, into Zurich and from Zurich across [to the U.S.]? … There are ways to get around it. Security is first, but it’s got to be credible — and we’re not getting any more information to support that at the moment.”
Trump’s ban on electronics comes just weeks after he signed a revised order barring travel from six Muslim-majority nations. Two federal judges have since halted parts of the travel ban, arguing that its discriminatory against Muslims. Federal officials said the president’s recent ban on carry-on electronics didn’t seek to target specific nations and “relied upon evaluated intelligence to determine which airports were affected.”
“DHS, in close cooperation with our intelligence community partners, selected these airports based on the current threat picture,” the department said in a statement, adding that more airports could possibly be added to the list.
“The new procedures remain in place until the threat changes.”