The US has banned laptops, tablets and other electronic devices in the cabins of flights to and from the US from nine airlines operating in parts of North Africa and the Middle East, in their latest attempt to thwart terror attacks.
The ban affects devices larger than a mobile phone including cameras, DVD players and electronic games.
It came into effect on Tuesday and was first reported the day before by Royal Jordanian Airlines and the official news agency of Saudi Arabia.
Federal officials, requesting anonymity, told the Huffington Post that ongoing threats from terrorist groups against commercial airlines and airports prompted the new rules.
Officials from the Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation imposed the change which affects passengers on direct flights to and from the US from 10 airports in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
The airlines are all foreign carriers and have 96 hours to implement the change which will require passengers to put the banned devices in checked luggage, officials have said.
The airlines are: Egypt Air, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Saudia and Turkish Airlines.
Authorities referred to the recent downings of commercial planes by terrorists and the deadly attack at Istanbul Ataturk Airport that killed 45 people last June in justifying the ban.
A tweet from Royal Jordanian airlines created confusion Monday when it informed passengers of the ban before the security measure was officially announced. The tweet was later deleted.
The company said that starting March 21, passengers could no longer bring cameras, DVD players and electronic games with their carry-on items and that such items must be checked on flights to and from New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal.
Cell phones and medical devices would still be permitted, Royal Jordanian tweeted in a statement.
The ban was indefinite, an unnamed official told the Associated Press (AP), who reported that the measure had been considered for several weeks.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly phoned lawmakers over the weekend, AP reported, to brief them on aviation security issues that prompted the electronics ban, according a congressional aide, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue.
The ban would begin just before Wednesday’s meeting of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Washington.
A number of top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering.
Brian Jenkins, an aviation-security expert at the Rand Corporation said the nature of the security measure suggested that it was driven by intelligence of a possible attack. He added that there could be concern about inadequate passenger screening or even conspiracies involving insiders - airport or airline employees - in some countries, AP reported.
Another aviation-security expert, professor Jeffrey Price of Metropolitan State University of Denver, said there were disadvantages to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage.
Thefts from baggage would skyrocket, as when Britain tried a similar ban in 2006, he said, and some laptops have batteries that can catch fire - an event easier to detect in the cabin than in the cargo hold.
Most major airports in the United States have a computer tomography or CT scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag’s contents. They can warn an operator of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. All checked baggage must be screened for explosives.