Turkey Bristles at Being Included in Airline Laptop Ban

By Patrick Goodenough | March 22, 2017 | 5:56am EDT
Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. (Photo: Wikipedia/Milan Suvajac)

(CNSNews.com) – As Britain followed the United States’ lead in banning the carrying of electronic devices onboard inbound flights from selected airports in Islamic nations, Turkey is demanding that it not be lumped together with the other affected countries.

Turkish Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan said the U.S. ban should be reversed, stressing that the international airport in Istanbul should not be “mixed” with the other hubs affected – Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Amman, Cairo, Kuwait City, Doha and Casablanca.

“Annually, 80 million flights take off from Istanbul’s Ataturk international airport and in my opinion, people should not confuse it” with the other airports, Arslan said.

Although Istanbul’s airport was the 14th busiest in the world last year, one of the others affected by the U.S. ban, Dubai’s international airport, was third-busiest. None of the other affected airports made the list of the top 40 busiest in 2016.

Arslan said Turkish officials had been trying to dissuade U.S. authorities from going ahead with the ban.

“Turkey already takes all necessary precautions for a safe flight,” he said, voicing concern about how the measure would affect passenger numbers and comfort.

Arslan’s comments were echoed by Turkey’s ambassador in Washington, Serdar Kilic, who told the country’s Daily Sabah that Istanbul’s airport was much safer than many others.

“Including Turkey with some other countries into this ban is unacceptable,” Kilic said, adding that U.S. officials should have visited to carry out their own assessment.

The airport in Istanbul was the scene of a major terrorist attack last June, when three gunmen killed 44 people in an international terminal before blowing themselves up.

Turkey’s protests were directed at the U.S. decision to ban laptops, tablets, cameras, and any other electronic device larger than a smartphone, in carry-on luggage on non-stop U.S.-bound flights from the 10 airports. They may be carried in checked-in luggage.

“We have reason to be concerned about attempts by terrorist groups to circumvent aviation security and terrorist groups continue to target aviation interests,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a fact sheet on the restrictions.

The U.S. ban affects no U.S. carriers, but impacts Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways and Royal Air Maroc.

Later, the British government announced its own measures, although applying to a somewhat different set of Mideast countries. The British list excludes the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Morocco, but adds Lebanon and Tunisia.

About 14 British and foreign carriers, including Turkish Airlines, are affected by the British ban.

Other countries affected by the bans have not publicly complained to date. Turkey’s Islamist government, which owns 49 percent of Turkish Airlines, is embroiled in a severe dispute with the European Union ahead of a referendum that will give its president greater powers.

While the British ban is effective immediately, the U.S. ban is due to come into effect by 3 AM eastern U.S. time on Saturday.

The delayed start means the U.S. ban will not affect ministers flying in to Washington from 68 nations for a meeting Wednesday of the coalition designed to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL). Coalition members include all eight countries affected by the U.S. security measure.

Bombs in shoes, underwear, liquids …

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the decision was “based on an assessment that there was a credible terrorist threat to commercial aviation emanating from these airports.”

He added that “evaluated intelligence indicated that – frankly, that these terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are pursuing new ways to carry out attacks, and that includes smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.”

A DHS fact sheet stated, “The record of terrorist attempts to destroy aircraft in flight is longstanding and well-known. We continually re-assess old intelligence and collect new intelligence.”

It cited several recent terror attacks, including the attempting downing of an airliner over Somalia last year, and the bombing of a Russian plane over Sinai in 2015.

“Terrorist propaganda has highlighted the attacks against aircraft in Egypt with a soda can packed with explosives in October 2015, and in Somalia using an explosives-laden laptop in February 2016,” it said.

In the Somalia incident, blamed on Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, only the bomber was killed and the plane was able to land, despite sustaining a blast hole in its fuselage.

The ISIS affiliate in Sinai is held responsible for the bombing over the Egyptian peninsula, which cost the lives of all 224 passengers and crew.

The DHS also pointed to previous terror attacks targeting aircraft and airports, including those at Istanbul and Brussels airports last year, and earlier cases in which terrorists concealed explosives in shoes (on a U.S.-bound transatlantic flight in Dec. 2001), liquids (in a 2006 plot), underwear (over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009) and printers (discovered on U.S.-bound commercial cargo planes in 2010.)

The earlier plots were blamed on al-Qaeda and its affiliate in Yemen AQAP.

Protectionism link?

Some media outlets and experts suggested the U.S. ban may have another motive, linked to rivalry between U.S. and Gulf airlines.

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, which represents American, Delta and United among others, recently launched an ad campaign urging President Trump to take a stand against Gulf governments’ subsidies for their state-owned carriers, which the advocacy group says are threatening American jobs.

Asked Tuesday about claims of a connection between the restrictions and U.S. carriers’ concerns about the Gulf airlines, DHS spokesman David Lapan ruled out any link, adding that “these restrictions are strictly security-related.”

Meanwhile Emirates responded to the new restrictions by tweaking an existing promotional ad featuring actress Jennifer Aniston, highlighting a scene in which she chats to children onboard an Emirates flight about onboard entertainment.

“This thing has so many games and so many movies, it’s crazy,” Aniston says.

“Who needs tablets and laptops anyway?” asks the amended ad, which the airline posted on its official Twitter feed on Tuesday. “Over 2,500 channels of the latest movies, box sets, live sport and kids TV.  Let us entertain you.”

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