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2017-03-21 09:55:02
U.S. Limits Devices for Passengers on Foreign Airlines From Eight Countries

Passengers on foreign airlines headed to the United States from 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries have been barred from carrying electronic devices larger than a cellphone under a new flight restriction enacted on Tuesday by the Trump administration.

Officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack.

The Department of Homeland Security said the restricted items included laptop computers, tablets, cameras, travel printers and games bigger than a phone. The restrictions would not apply to aircraft crews, officials said in a briefing to reporters on Monday night that outlined the terms of the ban.

The new policy took effect at 3 a.m. E.D.T. on Tuesday, and must be followed within 96 hours by airlines flying to the United States from airports in Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

It applies only to flights on foreign carriers, and not American-operated airlines. Officials did not say how long the ban would remain in place or if other airports would be added.

Royal Jordanian, the state-run airline of the Hashemite kingdom, said that medical items are exempt from the ban, and that larger electronic items could still be carried in checked baggage. It announced the changes to what it called “our dearest passengers” in a Twitter post Monday afternoon that was later deleted.

In all, officials said an estimated 50 flights each day into the United States would be affected. One of the world’s busiest airports, in Abu Dhabi, already requires American-bound passengers to undergo strict screening by United States customs officials before boarding flights. Abu Dhabi is one of 15 airports in the world to employ the Homeland Security preclearance techniques.

During the briefing on Monday night, Homeland Security officials did not cite specific intelligence suggesting that terrorist groups were planning imminent attacks as a reason for the new policy. Rather, they said the change was based on intelligence reports about extremist groups that have an ongoing interest in staging attacks against American aviation targets. The officials briefed reporters on the condition they would not be identified, since the ban was not yet in place.

Separately, an official with the Transportation Security Administration who confirmed the new restriction said not everyone at the agency had been briefed about it as of Monday evening, raising the possibility that it was being rushed out. He noted that there was no mention of intelligence at a national meeting of T.S.A. federal security directors last week that suggested planes coming to the United States had been targeted by terrorist groups.

The T.S.A. has been on heightened alert at several airports, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. It was not clear if the alert was related to the new restrictions on electronic devices.

The restrictions follow other changes the T.S.A. made in aviation security in recent days.

Two weeks ago, the T.S.A. adopted enhanced pat-down searches for passengers at United States airports, a response to what the agency said were weaknesses in airport screening measures. Under the new rules, passengers will no longer be allowed to choose what type of searches they undergo in security lines.

The agency said the measures, which will be more invasive than current procedures, were needed to improve the ability of screeners to detect explosives or other banned items. In a series of 70 undercover tests of airport security screening procedures, conducted in 2015 by the Homeland Security inspector general’s office, auditors were able to get fake weapons and explosives past security screeners 95 percent of the time, according to the still-classified report.

The enhanced pat-down searches will be used on passengers who refuse to go through the full-body screening machine. Passengers who trigger alarms while going through screening will also undergo the enhanced searches. T.S.A. officers can also randomly choose passengers for the more invasive pat-downs.

Travelers will still be able to request a private pat-down screening and ask to be accompanied by a companion of their choice.