“Laptop Bombs” Are Remarkably Low Tech


May 16, 2017

In nearly every airport security checkpoint in the world, passengers traveling with laptops or large electronics must remove them from their bags and place them in a separate screening container. While the practice may be inconvenient for business travelers, it’s for a good reason: the complicated electronics of a laptop are a tempting place for terrorists to hide improvised explosive devices.

Last week, Donald Trump revealed to a group of Russian diplomats classified information possibly pertaining to an ISIS plot to use laptops to smuggle explosives aboard planes. Trump claims the information, which was “code word” classified by U.S. intelligence services, was “wholly appropriate” to share with the Russians to help both world powers combat the unspecified threat, which was reported to be the impetus behind the ban on large electronics on many foreign airlines entering the U.S.

The latest example of a laptop-borne IED is the 2016 bombing of Daallo Airlines Flight 159. Flight 159 was flying from Mogadishu, Somali, to Djibouti when a bomber detonated an IED concealed in a laptop on board, blowing a hole in the plane. The plane stayed in the air and landed safely — the bomber was sucked out of the hole he created and killed, and two passengers were injured.

CNN reported in April of this year that intelligence officials were becoming more concerned with the possibility of sophisticated bombs making it through airport security, potentially concealed in large electronics, which it claims was a deciding factor in President Trump’s decision to push forward on a ban on electronics in U.S.-bound flights for several major airlines. But explosives and security experts say the main fault in the Daallo Airlines bombing was human error — the bomb itself should have been spotted, but was not.

In early April, the New York Times Magazine obtained an X-ray image of the Daallo laptop bomb from an FBI report on the incident. The explosive charge was hidden inside the slot where a laptop’s DVD player would usually go, connected to a nine-volt battery with some short wires.

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