Terror threat? DHS bans in-flight electronics for travelers from eight nations

These days, having a laptop or tablet is almost a must for air travelers to dispense with the boredom of a long flight. Those coming to the US from eight international airports will have to travel old-school with printed material for their reading pleasure, according to a new edict from TSA. In a confidential memo, the agency has forbidden all electronic devices larger than a cellphone from being carried onto the flight, although passengers can have them in their checked baggage:

Citing “evaluated intelligence,” the Transportation Security Administration is temporarily barring passengers on non-stop flights to the U.S. from eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa from bringing laptops, iPads, cameras and most other electronics onto planes in carry-on luggage.

Those devices will instead have to be packed in checked baggage.

The ban went into effect overnight Tuesday, but carriers have through Friday to comply.

The TSA says the measure is needed because, “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.”

The ban is airport-specific, and the list is filled with surprises. All ten are located in eight nations that are key allies to the US, and one belongs to a fellow NATO member:

The affected airports are: Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan; Cairo International Airport; Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul; King Abdul-Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait International Airport; Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco; Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar; Dubai International Airport; and Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Failure to comply could result in flights being refused at American airports, a rather dire threat considering the distances involved. Airlines have indicated that they will comply, even if they’re not happy about the order or its specificity. No American carriers will be impacted by this order, according to TSA and The Guardian.

What prompted the emergency order? It does not appear that TSA is claiming a specific threat to a flight, but rather has determined that al-Qaeda is continuing to develop new ways to attack commercial aviation. A bombing last year on a Somali flight that ended up only killing the perpetrator might be part of those calculations. The attack used a laptop bomb, and it failed in part because the terrorist didn’t wait for the plane to reach its cruising altitude. The incident showed, however, that terrorists are still attempting to target commercial air travel to achieve mass destruction, and the collapse of ISIS might incentivize some groups to take the lead among radical Islamist terror groups.

It’s unclear how long this advisory will last. The order says the change is indefinite, and the TSA FAQ sheet also says that the order could change or be expanded “as threats change.” For now, it looks like this process will be the new normal for inbound flights on these carriers.