Extremists plan to target planes with bombs in electronic devices, the United States warned on March 21, adding that it was duly banning passengers from carrying them in the cabin on flights from a number of airports, including Turkey’s Atatürk Airport.
Nine airlines have been given until March 25 to ban any device bigger than a cellphone or smartphone from the cabin.
Laptops, tablets and portable game consoles are affected by the ban – which applies to direct flights to the United States – but they may still be stowed in the hold in checked baggage.
Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines on March 21 said it was one of the airlines subject to the U.S. ban.
“It has been decided by the relevant authorities that electronic devices larger than cell phones or smart phones should not be allowed inside the cabin,” on U.S.-bound flights, Turkish Airlines said in a statement, adding that medical devices were exempt from this.
Doğan News Agency reported that Turkish Airlines would start implementing the ban as of 8:30 a.m. on March 22 on its direct flight from Istanbul to New York.
Passengers on approximately 50 flights per day from some of the busiest hubs in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa will be obliged to follow the new emergency ruling.
“The restrictions are in place due to evaluated intelligence and we think it’s the right thing to do and the right places to do it to secure the safety of the traveling public,” one U.S. official said, according to AFP.
Turkish Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan said March 21 that Turkey would ask the United States to reverse the ban on electronic devices.
“We particularly emphasize that they should not mix Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport with other airports in other countries,” Arslan told reporters, saying the decision was not right from both Turkey’s and the U.S.’ side.
“We say that either [the ban]should be reversed or eased,” Arslan said.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, refused to discuss the “intelligence information” that led the Transportation Security Administration to issue the order.
But one said that concerns had been “heightened by several successful events and attacks on passenger lanes and airports over the last years.”
The official would not go into detail about which attacks had raised fears, but did cite an incident from February 2016 in which suspected Somali Islamists blew a hole in the side of Daallo Airlines passenger jet with a small device. Only the bomber was killed and the plane landed safely.
CNN quoted a U.S. official as saying the ban was believed to be related to a threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP.
“Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,” an official said.
Apart from Atatürk Airport, the airports affected by the ban are Queen Alia International in Amman, Jordan; Cairo International in Egypt; King Abdulaziz International in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Khalid International in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait International; Mohammed V International in Casablanca, Morocco; Hamad International in Doha, Qatar; and the Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports in the United Arab Emirates.
No U.S. carriers make direct flights from these airports, so they are unaffected by the ban, which will hit Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
Airlines will be responsible for policing the cabin ban, and if they fail to do so could lose their rights to operate U.S. routes.
No end date has been put on the order, and officials would not say whether the restriction might spread to other airports.