| WASHINGTON, July 3
WASHINGTON, July 3 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.
The officials singled out smartphones including iPhones made
by Apple Inc and Galaxy phones made by Samsung
Electronics 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 at airport security checkpoints.
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.
Airlines or airport operators that fail to strengthen
security could face bans on flights entering the United States,
the officials said, adding that the U.S. government has
consulted with international airlines, foreign governments and
airport operators on the issue.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department announced on Wednesdey
plans to step up security checks, but they offered few details
on how airlines and airports will implement them.
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 and Andrew Hay)