The government expects al-Qaida to use the devices to hide weapons.

WASHINGTON (AP) – CD players, cameras, laptop computers and other electronic devices will get greater scrutiny at airports, the government said Tuesday, warning that terrorists may try to use such items to conceal weapons or bombs.

The Homeland Security Department sent an advisory to law enforcement personnel nationwide alerting them to the possibility al-Qaida could use electronics to carry out attacks.

“Al-Qaida operatives have shown a special interest in converting a camera flash attachment into a stun gun type of weapon or improvised explosive device,” the advisory said.

Among the items that will prompt increased scrutiny at airports are remote keyless door or lock openers, automatic camera flash attachments, cellular phones and multi-band or dual-speaker radios.

“Depending on location, placement and configuration of the device, the amount of explosives that could be contained within even the smallest camera could cause collateral damage,” the advisory said.

It also said terrorists could design such devices to be used against government buildings, public areas with controlled access and security screening checkpoints.

Security directors at airports were ordered to meet with all federal screeners within the next day and review procedures for checking electronic gadgets, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA also is asking passengers to remove all their electronics from their pockets or bags and put them through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint, Turmail said. Air travelers will still be required to remove laptop computers from their cases before they’re screened, he said.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, predicted inconveniences for travelers, including longer lines at security checkpoints.

“They’re going to be subject to extraordinary scrutiny,” Stempler said. But, he added, “I’d be disappointed if they weren’t doing anything different, given these warnings.”

The advisory was the latest effort to tighten security since the government publicly warned on July 28 that terrorists may try more suicide hijackings.

The departments of State and Homeland Security suspended two programs that allowed foreigners to stay in U.S. airports without visas while awaiting flights to other countries. The State Department also revised an existing caution for American travelers to reflect the perceived hijacking threat.

Michael Cherkasky, a former New York state prosecutor who was involved in the first World Trade Center bombing case, said the recent warning was no surprise since terrorists have for years tried – and sometimes succeeded – to blow up planes by hiding bombs in electronics.

“It’s in the al-Qaida manual,” he said. “It’s not a shock.”

A thumbnail-sized circuit board inside a radio detonated the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, plotted to simultaneously blow up 11 airliners by smuggling parts of bombs onto each airplane and assembling them in the lavatories, Cherkasky said.

“If they do it well, it’s extraordinarily difficult to detect,” Cherkasky said. Closer scrutiny of electronics is just one way that a many-layered system of airport security can detect a sophisticated plot, he said.

Airlines have struggled to regain passengers since the Sept. 11 attacks. Darryl Jenkins, head of George Washington University’s Aviation Institute, said the terror warnings will keep people from flying during what should be the peak summer travel season.

“None of this is good,” Jenkins said. “These are not the kinds of things that cause people to book trips.”

Diana Cronan, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group for major airlines, said, “We are trying to work together with Homeland Security.”

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AP-ES-08-05-03 1810EDT

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