US, UK Electronics Ban al-Qaeda, IS bombs are on focus: experts | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 24, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 24, 2017

US, UK Electronics Ban al-Qaeda, IS bombs are on focus: experts

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The prohibition on carry-on electronics for certain flights to the US and Britain shows both the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda remain able to mount potent threats to civil aviation despite tighter airport security, experts say.

On Tuesday, US authorities ordered a ban on laptop computers, tablets, cameras and other items larger than cell phones in passenger cabins of direct US-bound flights from certain airports in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan.

Britain imposed similar restrictions on flights from six countries, while France and Canada said they were considering their own measures.

Analysts say an intelligence tip was likely behind the announcement. The New York Times reported that US counterterrorism officials have intelligence that IS operatives are developing a bomb to be hidden in laptop computer batteries.

Doing so would bring the group up to the technological level of rival Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), where so-called expert bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri has spent years on a similar effort.

Airport security is much better than just a few years ago, Jay Ahern, the former acting director of the US Customs and Border Control, told AFP.

"But clearly terror organizations continue to target air travel, and they have shown a clear ability to innovate," Ahern said.

'INNOVATIVE' AQAP BOMBMAKER

Recent attacks on aircraft in Somalia and Egypt are evidence of a focus by jihadist groups on developing harder-to-detect bombs -- and getting them on flights.

The bomb that blew a hole in the fuselage of a Somalian airline in February 2016, killing one person, is believed to have been built into a laptop computer carried into the passenger cabin.

That attack was claimed by the Al-Shabaab group.

And Moscow authorities have blamed a cabin-based bomb for destroying an October 2015 Russian charter flight from Sharm el-Sheikh that killed 217 people. The Islamic State claimed it smuggled a bomb on board in a soda can.

Security services are particularly focused on Asiri, the explosives mastermind of AQAP.

Asiri is believed to be behind the placement of explosive-packed printer cartridges discovered on cargo aircraft headed toward the United States in 2010.

He is also tied to the failed underwear bomb AQAP deployed hoping to bring down a US aircraft in 2009.

"He was very innovative," said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University.

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