THE SLOVAK Secret Service (SIS) has launched an investigation into claims that missiles fired at a passenger plane shortly after its take-off from an airport in Mombasa, Kenya, two weeks ago came from Slovakia.
Head of the SIS Vladimír Mitro confirmed December 2 that his staff were aware of reports that the surface-to-air missiles fired at an Israeli plane carrying 261 passengers and 10 crew November 28 allegedly came from Slovakia.
"We are aware of the information and we are dealing with it," Mitro said.
The allegations surfaced in Italian daily Corriere della Sera, as part of its coverage of the attempted terrorist attack in Kenya, which bears all the hallmarks of international terrorism organisation Al-Qaeda. The missiles, fired from just outside the airport's perimeter fence, narrowly missed the plane, which continued on to its final destination, Tel Aviv.
Because of the media speculation about the origin of the missiles, Slovakia now needs to provide a speedy response to the allegations, observers said, particularly as the country was invited to join Nato only a few weeks ago.
"If the information [that the missiles came from Slovakia] is not confirmed then it is fine, but if it proves true, Slovakia may face complications in the [Nato] accession process," said Ivo Samson, analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association think tank (SFPA).
Local authorities have expressed their strong disbelief of the allegations, and the Defence Ministry has not reported any Strela rockets of the type used missing. Production of these missiles began during the Cold War in the Soviet Union, then moved to its former satellite states in eastern Europe among other countries.
"I absolutely do not think this is true," said Deputy Defence Minister Rastislav Káčer.
"This is pure allegation, nothing more. And although it is true that in the past there have been some suspicions [about Slovakia's involvement in illegal arms trading] none of those suspicions were ever proven true," he said.
Several international institutions, including Amnesty International, have in the past criticised Slovakia for a lack of proper controls on arms trading. During the 1990s a number of local firms and individuals were suspected of supplying arms to countries under UN weapons-trading embargoes, such as Sudan and Angola.
In addition, the SIS annual report in 2001 admitted that illegal arms trading might be going on in Slovakia, Samson noted.
Observers say the recent allegations will strengthen suspicions that Slovakia is involved in illegal arms trading, and there have already been new calls for stricter controls in this area.
MP Roman Vavrík, from the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, said: "[It is possible] that such an illegal arms trade has entered our country. We should consider toughening controls of the arms trade."
Katarína Ševčíková, spokeswoman for Slovak Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics told The Slovak Spectator that her ministry was currently redesigning a law that establishes which companies are allowed to deal with military material.
She added that the ministry has in the past only licensed arms exports to countries that were not subject to international sanctions or embargoes.
"Whether the arms were actually exported to the countries for which the licenses were issued is a matter for the customs authorities, in cooperation with the destination countries," she said.
Slovak officials have admitted that terror groups could be operating on their territory. Interior Minister Vladimír Palko said last month that terrorists could be using Slovakia as a "hiding place or sleeper zone".
The comment came days after it emerged last week that Rabah Kadre, 35, who was arrested in London in early November under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, had lived in Bratislava for a year before moving to the UK at the beginning of November.
The British press later alleged that he, along with two other men arrested in London, had been plotting a cyanide attack on the London underground. Kadre is to appear in a London court later this month.
In June 2001 three members of the Real IRA - Michael MacDonald, Fintan O'Farrell and Declan Rafferty - confessed in a London court that they had been trying to buy weapons in the Slovak spa town of Pieštany for a possible terrorist attack. They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.
9. Dec 2002 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová