New government scrutiny on the security of laptops—including a just-completed ban on laptops on flights from airports in North African and Middle Eastern countries to the U.S.—were prompted in part after a similar explosive “destroyed” an aircraft in a test near Washington, D.C.
Now that the airports have updated their screening measures, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ban is over, but as Homeland Security chief John Kelly told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, the threat remains. When it went into effect in March, a U.S. intelligence official told CBS News that the ban was initiated after an intelligence report described a terrorist plot seeking to destroy a commercial flight using explosives hidden in a laptop in a way that would be undetectable to some airport screeners.
Intelligence officials received a wake-up call in February 2016, when an operative from Yemen-based Al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab detonated a bomb on a Daallo Airlines flight from Mogadishu, Somalia, to Djibouti. Investigators said the explosives were hidden in a part of the laptop where the DVD drive would normally be, and airport workers helped smuggle the bomb on the plane after it passed through an X-ray machine.
In that case, however, the explosion only claimed one victim—the bomber was blown out of the airplane—and the plane was able to make an emergency landing. But if the aircraft had reached cruising altitude, the damage could have been catastrophic.