Phones, shoes to face scrutiny as airport security tightened: U.S.

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 4, 2014 2:58am EDT

Police officers patrol at a security gate inside the main terminal of Frankfurt Airport July 3, 2014.   REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Police officers patrol at a security gate inside the main terminal of Frankfurt Airport July 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Ralph Orlowski

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Airlines with direct flights to the United States have been told to tighten screening of mobile phones and shoes in response to intelligence reports of increased threats from al Qaeda-affiliated militant groups, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

The officials singled out smartphones including iPhones made by Apple Inc and Galaxy phones made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd for extra security checks on U.S.-bound direct flights from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

U.S. security officials said they fear bombmakers from the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have figured out how to turn the phones into explosive devices that can avoid detection.

They also are concerned that hard-to-detect bombs could be built into shoes, said the officials, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A U.S. official said that other electronic devices carried by passengers also are likely to receive more intense scrutiny.

Airlines or airport operators that fail to strengthen security could face bans on flights entering the United States, the officials said.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department announced on Wednesday plans to step up security checks, but they offered few details on how airlines and airports will implement them.

An official familiar with the matter said the United States believes that while it is possible there may be some additional delays at security checkpoints, at most major airports passengers will not be seriously inconvenienced.

The official said most passengers taking long-distance flights arrive well in advance of scheduled departures, leaving time for extra screening. But he said the United States could not rule out disruptions in countries where airport infrastructure and security procedures are less sophisticated.

U.S.-based airlines had little to say about the enhanced security. American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the Department of Homeland Security had been in contact with American on the issue, but declined to comment further.

Luke Punzenberger, a spokesman for United Airlines Inc[UALCO.UL], said: "We work closely with federal officials on security matters, but we are not able to discuss the details of those efforts."

U.S. security agencies fear bombmakers from AQAP and the Islamist Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, are collaborating on plots to attack U.S.- or Europe-bound planes with bombs concealed on foreign fighters carrying Western passports, the officials said.

AQAP has a track record of plotting such attacks. Its innovative bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, built an underwear bomb used in a failed 2009 effort to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner, and his devices were implicated in other plots.

There was no immediate indication U.S. intelligence had detected a specific plot or timeframe for any attack.

U.S. officials say the United States has acquired evidence that Nusra and AQAP operatives have tested new bomb designs in Syria, where Nusra is one of the main Islamist groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

(Editing by Jason Szep, Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (3)
itsmysayokay wrote:
Looking for bombs in all the wrong places. This is just a 4th of July ploy to strike fear into travellers.

Jul 04, 2014 7:53am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Paulam3 wrote:
I just flew out of Toronto over the past week (domestic flight). Only passengers in economy class were screened for residue – passengers in the executive class, who went through another screening line, were not screened for residue. Better screening procedures for bombs WOULD NOT be based on assumptions about social class (that only those in economy class have nefarious intentions!) Recall that the flight taken down on 9/11 involved the use of executive class seats. I spent 20 minutes in line waiting to be screened, and I noticed the difference in screening procedures. I’m sure that people with nefarious intentions spend a great deal more time reflecting on these issues/matters than I do. We ALL want safe flights. Please develop screening procedures that serve the needs of EVERYBODY.

Jul 04, 2014 8:06am EDT  --  Report as abuse
unionwv wrote:
Wonder if the Homeland Security gumshoes are stepping up airport perimeter fence monitoring?

Awhile back, some poor soul fell into the East River in the middle of the night and showed up undetected in LaGuardia’s main terminal, after crawling under the fence.

Jul 04, 2014 10:19am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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