The US has declared that it will not allow mobile phones - especially iPhones and Samsung's Galaxy - onto US bound planes from some airports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa if the devices are not charged.
The new measure, which is bound to cause chaotic scenes at airports around the globe, is part of the US Transportation Security Administration's effort to boost surveillance amid concerns that terrorists are plotting to blow up an airliner.
As part of the increased scrutiny at certain airports, security agents may ask travelers to turn on their electronic devices at checkpoints and if they do not have power, the devices will not be allowed on planes, the TSA said.
US intelligence officials are concerned that al-Qaida is trying to develop a new and improved bomb that could go undetected through airport security. No doubt the new measures have the potential to create frantic searches for chargers at airports and one US source familiar with the matter said laptop computers are also among the devices security screeners may also require passengers to turn on.
US officials are concerned that a cellphone, tablet, laptop or other electronic device could be used as a bomb by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamist Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.
In 2009 a Yemen-linked bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, built an underwear bomb used in the failed effort to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner, and his devices were implicated in other plots.
The Islamist Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate involved in fighting with Syrian rebels to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, is also thought to be plotting an airliner attack, according to intelligence reports.
The TSA did not disclose which airports would be conducting the additional screening, however it was reported last week that passengers at British airports traveling to the US are facing extra checks on phones.
An official told the BBC that London's Heathrow was among the airports.
US 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.
The TSA in the US has announced that iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones will come under strict scrutiny. US 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 US official said that other electronic devices carried by passengers also are likely to receive more intense scrutiny and travellers may be asked to power up laptops, iPads, tablets and Kindles.
A TSA statement said: ‘As the travelling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers.
‘During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones.
‘Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveller may also undergo additional screening.’
Airlines or airport operators that fail to strengthen security could face bans on flights entering the United States, the officials said.
The US 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.
US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at the time: ‘We will work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travellers as possible.’
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.
In his weekly radio phone-in programme, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned last week that travellers may have to get used to the extra checks.
‘I don’t think we should expect this to be a one-off temporary thing,’ he said. ‘We have to make sure the checks are there to meet the nature of the new kinds of threats.’
‘Whether it is for ever – I can’t make any predictions. But I don’t want people to think that this is just a sort of a blip for a week. This is part of an evolving and constant review about whether the checks keep up with the nature of the threats.’
US-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 said: 'We work closely with federal officials on security matters, but we are not able to discuss the details of those efforts.'
US 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.
US 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.