Intelligence shows Al-Qaeda affiliate trying to hide explosives in electronic devices: Report

Intelligence indicates that terrorist groups are targeting commercial aviation by smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.
Intelligence indicates that terrorist groups are targeting commercial aviation by smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - An Al-Qaeda affiliate is honing its methods for hiding explosives in electronic devices, CNN reported, citing a US official.

The Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is looking to exploit batteries and their compartments in laptops and other commercial electronic devices, the unnamed official told CNN.

The discovery prompted the United States and Britain to ban devices larger than a smartphone from the cabins on certain flights from countries in the Middle East and, for the US, North Africa.

 
 

In a Reuters report, US officials said militant groups are known for innovative bomb designs, including embedding the explosives inside computers. 

The Yemen-based AQAP has also boasted of one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.

The AQAP has plotted to down US airliners and claimed responsibility for the 2015 attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

US authorities believe there is a threat from plots similar to an incident last year in Somalia, where a bomb hidden in a laptop blew a hole in the side of a plane but failed to down it, Reuters quoted a source as saying.

An aviation official also informed CNN that he was told first hand by an intelligence official that this electronics ban was not a "political move" by the Trump administration. 

"The US government is concerned about terrorists' ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years," a US counter-terrorism official said in a statement.  "Our information indicates that terrorist groups' efforts to execute an attack against the aviation sector are intensifying." 
 
The US has given nine airlines from eight countries until the weekend to tell all travellers to America to pack laptops, tablets and portable game consoles in their checked-in luggage, AFP reported.
 
No US carriers are affected, but passengers on approximately 50 flights per day from some of the busiest hubs in the Muslim world will be obliged to follow the new emergency ruling, according to the report.  
 
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said there would be curbs on electronic items in the cabin on flights from six countries in the Middle East. The foreign office said the measures would be implemented by March 25. 
 
But some experts question whether the limited ban by the US and Britain could improve security. They say it is complicated by aviation safety concerns about lithium-powered batteries used in many electronic items catching fire in the cargo hold.