The Islamic State group was developing a laptop computer bomb to blow up a commercial aircraft, according to Israeli government spies who hacked into the militants’ operations.
A small Syria-based cell of IS bomb makers was hacked months ago, an effort that led to the 21 March “laptop ban” on direct flights to the US from ten airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa, the New York Times reported.
The Israeli cyber penetration was the source of US information about how the group was developing explosives that couldn’t be detected by standard screening because they looked identical to laptop batteries, according to the Times.
The intelligence was so good that it also included the detonation method for the bombs, the Times said, citing two US officials familiar with the operation.
The work was a rare success of intelligence against the constantly evolving, encryption-protected and social media-driven cyber operations of the militant group.
Following the US laptop ban, the UK announced a similar prohibition for flights originating from six countries.
In late May, US aviation security officials stepped back from imposing a ban on carry-on computers on flights coming from Europe, which had been proposed to guard against possible bomb-laden electronics from the Islamic State group.
But the Department of Homeland Security said a ban – already in place for US-bound flights from the Middle East – could still be implemented for Europe if the threat level worsens.
In a phone discussion with European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, the DHS Secretary John Kelly “made it clear” a ban on passengers carrying tablet and computer-sized electronics on board flights to the US “is still on the table”.
Israel’s contribution to the intelligence on the laptop bombs became public after President Donald Trump revealed details of the plot to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a 10 May White House meeting.
Trump’s disclosure “infuriated” Israeli officials, according to the Times.