The Trump Administration struggles for credibility when it comes to travel bans involving Middle Eastern countries.

After the two immigration bans ran into a legal wall, the new laptop ban feels like Plan B.

This one doesn't split up families but it still targets Muslims by focusing on predominantly Muslim countries and businesses. As with the immigration bans, it's also hard not to feel sceptical of the security claims used to justify it.

Some have suggested the latest ban is more to do with protecting US aviation businesses - although that doesn't explain why the British Government has enthusiastically followed Washington's lead.


The laptop ban's rollout was as sudden and lacking in immediate detail as the initial immigration Executive Order which barred for 90 days people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen; all refugees for 120 days, and Syrian refugees indefinitely.

First news of the latest rules came a week ago from Royal Jordanian Airlines and Saudia Airlines and then anonymous US media sources - for something due to start the next day that would affect thousands of travellers. Last Wednesday Britain said it would follow suit.

Laptops, tablets, cameras, portable DVD players, gaming devices and kindles have to be checked into cargo luggage.

The US laptop ban effects foreign carrier flights from Amman, Kuwait City, Cairo, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. No US-based airlines have non-stop flights from those cities to the US.

The ban doesn't apply to indirect flights that might pass through one of the targeted cities.

The British ban applies to flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia - not the powerful Gulf aviation area.

Taken together, the Trump Administration actions stamp and isolate a geographical region of the world and its people.

Previous security measures - aimed at neutralising your suspicious trainers and potentially-weaponised toothpaste - were relentlessly and widely applied. They were annoying but they were democratically annoying.

A Daily Sabah editorial in Turkey pointed out: "It is important to recall that the al-Qaeda militants who perpetrated the 9/11 terror attacks were aboard American planes. Sixteen years later, there is no reason why terrorists, along with their explosive laptops, should not fly Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, Delta or United."

It will be interesting to see who swims in the US and UK slipstream.

Two close US allies had different responses last week: Canada said it was considering a ban and Australia said it wasn't. Countries in Europe have yet to institute one.

In the past three years air travel has been largely safe from sabotage apart from a few high-profile, disasters: The missing MH370 mystery, the downing of MH17 by missile, the Germanwings plunge into the Alps by rogue pilot, and the Metrojet crash off Egypt which Russia believes was caused by a bomb in the cargo hold.

The major terror incidents over the same period - outside of countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, battling war or a high level of internal conflict - have all been on the ground with homegrown perpetrators.

It has become known as low-tech terror: France and Belgium, Britain, Germany, Australia and the US have suffered attacks by individuals often with backgrounds in crime, and using guns, knives and vehicles.

So, in the 60-plus days since President Donald Trump took over, has intelligence strong enough to require action against very specific countries, airports and carriers surfaced? We have no way of knowing.

There have been different explanations for what prompted it.

A Department of Homeland Security statement referred to "evaluated intelligence" and noted the 2015 jet downing in Egypt, an attempted plane bombing in Somalia last year and the attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul in 2016.

The Somalia incident involved a militant with a laptop. The blast created a hole in the aircraft and the man was sucked out and killed. The incident occurred soon after takeoff and the pilot landed the plane.

Associated Press reported: "A US government official said the ban was not prompted by any new or specific threat uncovered in recent days, but rather was based on awareness of continuing terrorist desires to target commercial aircraft ... A British security official also said there have not been, to that official's knowledge, recent European-directed plots involving such explosive devices."

ABC and the New York Times reported that Isis has allegedly been working on ways to smuggle explosives on to planes in electronics. BuzzFeed, citing a US official, said that the ban was "spurred by increased chatter picked up in recent weeks from militants saying they want to hide explosives in computers". BuzzFeed noted that the US has yet to increase the threat level.

The Daily Beast cited officials as saying that rival militant network Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the laptop threat. There have also been conflicting reports on whether the information came from an AQAP Yemen camp during a US raid or not.

The Daily Telegraph said the British ban was imposed as a result of intelligence on terrorists developing "laptop bombs".

At the weekend the Guardian reported that the US and UK bans were "partly prompted by a previously undisclosed plot involving explosives hidden in a fake iPad, according to a security source". It added that the bans "were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors".

Yesterday British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that a total ban on laptop computers being carried in hand luggage on all flights to the UK could not be ruled out in future.

Aside from the fact that officials have been inconsistent in explanations, there are also other obvious questions:

1 Are explosive-laden electronics any safer in the cargo hold than in the overhead locker?
2 Would the difference be simply the degree of impact?
3 Are laptops with their lithium batteries safe in the hold?
4 Why are smartphones any safer than tablets?
5 Is cargo bag checking as effective as checking at the gate?
6 If Istanbul is on the black list, why not Paris and Brussels, other sites of terror attacks?
7 Why are the US and British lists different?
8 Why not subject all airlines to scrutiny?
9 Could an attacker simply avoid the publicised routes and get to the US or UK another way?
10 Why would rival militant groups such as Isis and AQAP co-operate?
11 Is the Trump Administration determining that the Obama Administration underplayed the danger?
12 How can the telegraphed presence of so many valuables in the cargo hold be protected for passengers?
13 Are some of the electronics in the cargo bags likely to be opened and scrutinised for information under this system?
14 Would placement in the cabin or hold make any difference protecting against an insider breach of airport security?

Paul Cruickshank, CNN's terrorism expert, said: "Abu Dhabi and Dubai have been selected for this, and they're among the most modern airports in the world. They have all the state-of-the-art machines US airports have."

He added: "This is not new that terrorist groups have been developing capabilities to conceal explosives in electronics. So why all of a sudden are we getting these new restrictions?"

In a Guardian report, Raffaello Pantucci, of London's Royal United Services Institute, suggested that the fact others were not joining the ban pointed to a threat from AQAP. Its chief bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, has targeted the US and UK, the Guardian said.

A defence expert from the same institute, Shashank Joshi, told the Guardian: "Other Western and Western-allied countries have not undertaken the ban at all. This raises questions about why they have arrived at different conclusions, and specifically suspicions as to whether unstated political factors may be influencing the Trump Administration."

But he added he did not believe UK officials "would have imposed a ban without well-considered reasons of their own".

Professor Anthony Glees, director of the centre for security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, told the Independent the ban "defies logic".

He said: "If security is lax in any airports - which we know it to be in some more than others - then the answer is not to let anybody take anything electronic, not simply to single out laptops".

The Washington Post and the Financial Times have raised a plausible theory that the US ban is more to do with business than security. The Washington Post article by professors Abraham Newman and Henry Farrell said:

"Three of the airlines that have been targeted for these measures - Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways - have long been accused by their US competitors of receiving massive effective subsidies from their governments. These airlines have been quietly worried for months that President Donald Trump was going to retaliate. This may be the retaliation."

It added: "Airlines targeted in the order, are likely to lose a major amount of business from their most lucrative customers - people who travel in business class and first class. Business travellers are disproportionately likely to want to work on the plane."

The Independent's travel writer Simon Calder discovered a security flaw while testing the UK ban.

"After clearing six separate security hurdles at Istanbul airport, passengers bound for London Heathrow mingled in the gate area with newly arrived travellers who had faced no extra checks," he wrote.

"An entire planeload of arriving passengers wandered through what was supposed to be a security-sterile area."

Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International magazine, told the Independent: "There is no value in restricting people carrying laptops through checkpoints if they can be given them, or other items, just prior to boarding".

Calder pointed out that: "Anyone seeking to take large electronic devices in the aircraft cabin from Istanbul to Britain needs only fly to Amsterdam, Paris or any of dozens of other airports and change there for an onward flight to the UK."

What can targeted airlines do to retain passengers?

Could there be tablet bins next to the paper racks as you enter the cabin or would "complimentary" laptops be only for business and first class travellers?

Well-known Emirati commentator, Sultan Al Qassemi, who believes the US ban is about business protectionism, says one "idea is to allow passengers to convert the screens on the back of seats into a laptop screen, and offer them bluetooth keyboards to connect their mobile phones".

Emirates says transit passengers flying to the US via Dubai would be able to keep their devices for the first leg of their journey.

A report on Friday said Turkish Airlines plans to provide free internet on board for every passenger flying to US and is considering distributing free tablets.

Royal Jordanian Airlines approached a bad situation with a bit of humour. It came up with "12 things to do on a 12-hour flight with no laptop or tablet" - the best being "Engage in primitive dialogue from the pre-internet era".