Tech ban on flights reportedly tied to iPad bomb plot

The device in question supposedly looked just like a real Apple tablet but was filled with explosives, according to the UK-based Guardian.

Alfred Ng
Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
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Watch this: iPad bomb plot could be to blame for latest travel ban

An alleged plot involving an explosives-filled tablet prompted the new restrictions on electronics on flights from the Middle East, a security source told the Guardian.

The restrictions took effect Saturday, barring electronics larger than a phone inside the cabin on flights to the US and the UK from airports in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The American and British governments cited terrorism concerns when they announced the bans last week but did not give specifics.

A plot to bring explosives on a flight through a device that looked just like an Apple iPad helped push officials to enact the restrictions, the UK-based Guardian reported Sunday. It's unclear whether the device was an iPad shell or a fake iPad. It's also unclear when the alleged incident happened or who was behind it.

The iPad plot was one of multiple factors behind the electronics ban, the source told the Guardian.

US officials have been investigating how terrorists can disguise explosives as consumer electronics since the 2016 laptop bombing on a flight out of Mogadishu, Somalia, that blew a hole in the side of the plane, CBS News reported. A passenger who was sucked out of the plane died.

Intelligence agencies have said that terrorists can hide explosives in batteries for laptops and tablets. "Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups are aggressively pursuing a variety of methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items including electronics," a US Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said in a statement to CNET.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the US restrictions on March 20. The US order affects eight countries: Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The UK followed with similar restrictions the next day that affect six countries: Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Lebanon.

Officials told reporters that terrorists were "aggressively pursuing" ways to attack flights by disguising explosives in devices. "We understand the frustration that will cause, but our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals," the UK government said in a statement.

Terrorists have hidden explosives in their underwear, shoes and water bottles in attempted attacks on flights. In recent years, airlines have also banned certain electronics from flights if their batteries pose a risk of explosion through malfunction, as in the case of hoverboards and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Airports remain targets of terrorist attacks, including those in the US, Belgium and Turkey.

The US ban on carry-on electronics comes on the heels of President Donald Trump's executive orders to ban inbound travel from several Muslim-majority countries, which have been temporarily stopped by US courts.

First published, March 27 at 6:40 a.m. PT.
Update, 8:50 a.m. PT: Adds comment from TSA.

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