A BIZZARE story has emerged involving a bungled airport security operation at the international airport in Poprad, north-eastern Slovakia, which resulted in explosive being inadvertently smuggled into Ireland on board a plane to Dublin over the New Year period. It came only days after the failure of an alleged terrorist plot to detonate a device on an international flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, which was supposed to have led to increased vigilance at airports worldwide.
Amid heated discussion about the renewed terrorist threat and the need for stricter airport controls and body scanners, the story of a man unwittingly transporting highly dangerous explosive, which had been planted in his luggage by Slovak police, by plane from Slovakia to Ireland immediately hit the headlines around the world.
According to Slovak police, during a routine training exercise involving police dogs at Poprad Airport on Saturday, January 2, an officer from Slovakia’s Border and Foreigners’ Police put two pieces of a high explosive, hexogen (RDX), which experts say is more powerful than TNT, among the luggage of passengers travelling on a Danube Wings airline flight from Poprad to Dublin, Ireland. The dogs succeeded in finding both pieces, but the policeman accidentally left one of them, a package containing 95g of the substance, among the luggage. When he realised his mistake, he notified the airport administration but not his superiors, whom he informed only on Monday January 4, the SITA newswire reported.
The explosive, attached to a backpack, was then unwittingly carried by a Slovak citizen back to his home in Dublin. The media reported that the passenger, who did not notice the package, is a 49-year-old electrician working in Dublin who was returning from his Christmas holidays in Slovakia.
The Slovak police admitted their mistake, but said Dublin airport had been informed about the presence of the explosive on the flight from Poprad and failed to find it among the passengers’ luggage upon its arrival in Dublin. However, the Breaking News portal quoted a spokesperson for Dublin airport saying that they had not received any notification until Tuesday morning.
The director of Poprad Airport, Ivana Herkeľová, told SITA that the airport had informed its Irish counterpart via telex while the plane was still en route to Ireland. She also said that the pilot of the plane was informed before take-off, and that it had been his decision whether to fly or not. She said that since the plane was ready to take off and its engines were running, the pilot believed there was no security risk since the explosive had been put among the hold luggage by the police.
The director of the Slovak Border and Foreigners’ Police, Tibor Mako, told a press conference at Poprad Airport on January 6 that the lives of the passengers on the plane had not been at risk because the explosive is not on it own hazardous, and would require additional components to function as a bomb.
The main Irish and world media reported on the incident on January 5 after the Irish police, notified by their Slovak counterparts, closed two streets in Dublin around the house where the man who unwittingly carried the explosive resides and sent experts to dispose of the explosive.
According to the news website of Irelands public broadcaster, RTÉ, which was the first news source to report on the incident, adjoining homes and businesses were evacuated during the operation as the Irish Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit removed the explosive for further analysis. The Slovak citizen was arrested at the scene, but was later released without being charged once Irish police were satisfied that he was innocent.
Mako said, as quoted by SITA, that he found the actions of the Irish police surprising, as his officers had informed their Irish counterparts about the location of the explosive and the circumstances of how it got to Dublin.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said the Slovak Minister for the Interior had conveyed his government's profound regret for the incident to Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern. Ahern said he was very concerned about the fact that the Irish police were not alerted for three days and has asked for a full report, RTÉ reported.
Spokesperson for the Slovak Interior Ministry, Erik Tomáš, confirmed on January 6 that Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák had spoken with Ahern by telephone the day before and had also called the Slovak citizen in whose luggage the explosive was planted in order to apologise to him.
“We regard the whole incident to be an individual professional failure of a police officer for which he will most likely face a disciplinary proceeding,” Tomáš wrote in his statement to the media. He also wrote that the minister would not hold the superiors of the police officer responsible, as they were notified about the problem after a delay of two days, after which they contributed to resolving the problem.
Tomáš also pointed out that a similar incident happened in 2004 in France, for which only the individuals who had made the mistake were held responsible.
The ministry said it had suspended the kind of explosive detection training used in Poprad following the incident.
Meanwhile, the world media including the BBC, CNN, the Guardian newspaper, and all the leading Irish media, reported on the story. All of them at first mistakenly identified the Slovak airport involved to be in Bratislava instead of Poprad. The interest of the foreign media was boosted by the fact that the incident came only shortly after many countries had stepped up airport security following an alleged attempt to blow up a flight from Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, to the US city of Detroit on Christmas Day. The Slovak authorities did not confirm whether the security exercise in Poprad was linked to that incident.
6. Jan 2010 at 16:30 | Michaela Terenzani