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The Laptop Bomb: The Latest Extremist Weapon and Homeland Security Nightmare

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© Harun Maruf-Daallo Airlines Flight 159 after an explosion from a laptop bomb

The new threat for TSA and Homeland Security officials is not suicide bombers, but what is being described as a “laptop bomb”. For many years now, terrorist organizations – such as ISIS, Al-Shabaab, even dating back to Al-Qaeda – have been working steadily to create a bomb that can slip through x-ray machines and make its way onto an aircraft. This has caused a nightmare for the Department of Homeland Security due to the worry “that ISIS is particularly tech-savvy and has shown an unusual willingness to turn consumer tech into weapons” [1].

One event that sparked the questioning of x-ray machine usage at U.S. airports was the detonation of a laptop bomb on a Daallo Airlines passenger plane back on February 2nd, 2016. Officials say that “suspect Abdullahi Abdisalam Borleh, a Somali national, carried the laptop computer with a bomb in it onto Daallo Airlines Flight 159” [2]. The bomb detonated before the plane reached its normal cruising altitude, essentially saving the plane and its passengers from something that could have been devastating. It still raised the question of exactly how Abdullahi managed to slip this explosives-laden laptop through security systems and x-rays at the airport. A scarcity of upgraded systems could have caused the bomb to slip through security. “Most airports in the developed world use the latest generation of multiview X-ray machines, but some airports in less developed parts of the world still use single-view X-ray machines significantly less reliable in detecting explosives” [2]. The U.S. has state of the art security and x-ray machines in its airports, but it would take only one snafu to allow a bomb through.

The laptop bomb’s arrival has coincided with attempts to smuggle bombs in shoes, purses, and even underwear. “Saudi-born (Ibrahim al-)Asiri, 34, who was based in Yemen, was behind the failed Christmas Day attempt in 2009 to bring down a Detroit-bound plane by a suicide bomber with plastic explosives sewn into his underwear” [4]. This demonstrates how dedicated to achieving their goals terrorists are and the lengths to which they will go.

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©AFP/Getty Images-TSA screening laptops for bomb material/residue

One of President Trump’s principal campaign objectives was to tighten U.S. security and border protection. In response to a growing number of threats from ISIS and other intel, the Trump Administration announced a ban that “forced passengers to put any devices larger than a cell phone in their checked baggage,” [3] from, “10 airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.” [3] A foiled plot that involved “explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing” [4] was one of many factors that prompted the ban. Public outrage soon followed, and people began to question if it was a requisite security measure or “Islamophobia”. Since then, security procedures have been revamped and new measures have been implemented, discontinuing the ban.

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© Department of Homeland Security

There will always be a struggle to stay one step ahead in the battle between Homeland Security and terrorist organizations. As Homeland Security updates their technology and screening processes for passengers, terrorist organizations will continue to test their newest variants until they fulfill their perennial goal of taking down a U.S. (or U.S. bound) commercial airliner. It will be a difficult task; U.S. airport screening processes are top-notch.

Sources:

  1. http://www.popularmechanics.com/flight/airlines/news/a27432/laptop-bomb-airplane/
  2. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/11/africa/somalia-plane-bomb/index.html
  3. http://time.com/4867860/laptop-ban-lifted-airline-donald-trump-john-kelly/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/26/plot-explosives-ipad-us-uk-laptop-ban

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