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U.S. imposes electronics ban on flights from major Middle Eastern and African airports

WASHINGTON — Airlines flying directly from eight countries in the Middle East and Africa to the U.S. must prevent passengers from carrying almost all electronic devices in the cabin, according to new security restrictions from the Trump administration.

Passengers will have to check in any devices bigger than a smartphone — including iPads, Kindles and laptops — before clearing security or boarding, U.S. officials said, citing terrorism concerns.

The open-ended ban will affect more than 50 flights from 10 airports, including major global hubs like Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Istanbul, according to senior administration officials.

The nine airlines affected by the ban were notified of the procedures by the Transportation Security Administration at 1 a.m. MDT Tuesday and must comply within 96 hours.

Top international carriers such as Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines are among those that will have to implement the ban.

The U.S. officials said intelligence “indicates terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation” by “smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.”

The officials declined to provide specific information on the threat or why these particular airports were selected.

“Just evaluating all the intelligence, we believe that the threat is still prominent against aircraft and airports,” an official said.

U.S. airlines not affected

The 10 international airports covered by the ban are in Cairo; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Istanbul; Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; and Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The nine airlines are Egyptair, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines.

The officials said U.S. carriers are not affected because none of them flys from the airports in question to the U.S.

The ban involves some of the widest reaching aviation security measures taken since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

It means all laptops, cameras, tablets, e-readers, portable DVD players, electronic gaming devices and travel printers or scanners will have to be kept in the cargo hold for the duration of the flight.

Royal Jordanian Airlines told passengers Monday that medical devices were still allowed.

Concerns over airport screening

If the airlines don’t comply with the order within the 96 hour time frame, “we will work with the FAA to pull their certificate and they will not be allowed to fly to the United States,” one senior U.S. official said.

Another official, speaking separately from the senior administration officials, said there’s no specific plot authorities are aware of, but the U.S. has been considering such a ban for some time.

The official said the move is partly based on intelligence that they believe indicates al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is close to being able to hide explosives with little or no metal content in electronic devices in order to target commercial aircraft.

It’s a particular concern at these airports because of screening issues and the possibility of terrorists infiltrating authorized airport personnel, the official said. Flight and cabin crews are not covered by these new restrictions.

In February 2016, a bomb hidden inside a laptop detonated aboard a Daallo Airlines flight out of Mogadishu, Somalia. The bomber was killed and a hole was blown in the side of the fuselage. The aircraft landed safely.