Mobile devices banned in carry-on luggage from 10 Mideast airports

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(Bloomberg) -- Travelers flying to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa will have to store most larger electronic devices in checked baggage under a new rule issued by the Trump administration.

The Department of Homeland Security issued an emergency directive at 3 a.m. New York time Tuesday to carriers that fly between the airports located in eight countries and the U.S. Any electronic device larger than a mobile phone -- such as laptop computers and portable DVD players -- will have to go in the airplane’s cargo hold in a move to address potential security threats, according to administration officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity Monday evening.

The airports are located in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

Officials did not list any immediate, specific threats on the call, but rather said the new rule was based on “evaluated intelligence.” Such electronic devices have been implicated in previous attacks on airlines, one official said, pointing to a February 2016 flight by Somali-owned Daallo Airlines in which a passenger hid a bomb in a laptop computer.

Terrorist Targets

“We have reason to be concerned about attempts by terrorist groups to circumvent aviation security and terrorist groups continue to target aviation interests,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Tuesday. “Implementing additional security measures enhances our ability to mitigate further attempts against the overseas aviation industry.”

U.S. domestic flights or flights originating in the U.S. are not affected, according to the statement. Among the nine airlines that will have to comply are three Persian Gulf-area carriers that have grown rapidly in recent years, Emirates, Etihad Airways PJSC and Qatar Airways Ltd. The major U.S. airlines frequently complain that the three Gulf carriers have used generous government subsidies to buy airplanes and compete unfairly.

Other airlines affected by the rule are: Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudia Airlines, Kuwait Airways and Royal Air Maroc.

Authority Revoked

The U.S. began talking with affected airlines Sunday, one U.S. official on the briefing call said. Airlines will have 96 hours to comply with the directive, and airlines that refuse could see their authority to fly to the U.S. revoked.

Some of the devices that will be stored in cargo holds will contain lithium ion batteries, which have been implicated in airplane fires. The Federal Aviation Administration bans the storing of spare lithium ion batteries that are not installed from cargo holds. Regulators will work with the foreign airlines on how to handle such batteries, an administration official said.

The Homeland Security Department statement suggested that some items, such as mobile phones, were left off the restricted list for reasons of practicality.

“They can’t cover everything, they can’t control all vulnerabilities,” said Richard Bloom, an aviation security and terrorism expert at Embry - Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

The affected airports are: Queen Alia International Airport, Cairo International Airport, Ataturk International Airport, King Abdulaziz International Airport, King Khalid International Airport, Kuwait International Airport, Mohammed V Airport, Hamad International Airport, Dubai International Airport, and Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The move would be the latest by President Donald Trump’s administration to limit what it says are national security threats coming from a range of nations in the Middle East and Africa. The president earlier this month signed a second travel ban restricting entry into the U.S. by people from six predominantly Muslim countries. That order, like the first, has been held up by the courts.

--With assistance from Nafeesa Syeed, Lauren Etter and Mary Schlangenstein

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