BERLIN/WINDHOEK (Reuters) - A laptop bag containing a detonator and clock found at Namibia’s main airport during loading of a flight to Munich was only a security test device, Germany said on Friday, not a bomb as initially feared.
Police in Namibia, a former German colony bordering South Africa, confirmed it was an explosive simulation training device manufactured by a U.S. company. They named the company as Larry Copello Inc and said it had confirmed it made the product.
The company’s owner, Larry Copello, said by telephone from his office in California that the bag was indeed made by his firm. “Yes, it’s ours,” he told Reuters.
But it was not yet known who planted the bag or where it came from, Namibian authorities said.
Police found the bag in routine security checks at Windhoek airport before an Air Berlin flight two days ago, sparking concerns in Germany which is on heightened security alert over the possible threat of an attack by Islamist militants.
Analysts said the fact the suspect device turned out to be a fake used for testing was highly unusual.
The discovery of the package — which German police said contained batteries along with the detonator and clock — caused jitters in Germany a day after Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere issued an unprecedentedly stark warning about possible militant attacks on German targets next week.
On Friday, de Maiziere told a news conference in Hamburg that the package found in Namibia was only a fake.
“BKA (Federal Crime Office) officials have examined it and the result is that it is a so-called ‘real test suitcase’ from a U.S. company,” he said. “This company produces alarm and detection systems and these test suitcases are made to test security measures. No explosives were found in the suitcase and at no time was there any danger to passengers.”
There had been confusion on Thursday over whether or not it had been a test of security after sources said the package may have carried a label saying it was a security test.
De Maiziere, who discarded his usual reserve in warning the country faced a heightened risk of attacks by militants, acknowledged he did not know who was behind the security test.
“In case the question arises about whether German security officials might have been behind this (test), I would consider that to be unlikely. But that, too, will obviously be part of the investigation,” de Maiziere said.
In Windhoek, Namibian police chief Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga said on Friday the German BKA and the FBI were investigating together with Namibian authorities.
“The preliminary investigations have revealed the suspicious parcel does not contain any explosive substances,” he said. “However it is an explosive simulation training device manufactured by an American based company.”
He said there was no information that the United States or Germany were involved in the test. A task force comprising the FBI, German and Namibian police had been formed, and the team was studying the CCTV footage.
British aviation security consultant Chris Yates said normal international practice was that such checks were made by a local transport security official who would pass through departure formalities posing as a traveler.
“If the device is detected, all well and good. If it is not, the airport’s head of security is contacted immediately so that the baggage can be identified and the situation explained.”
He described the sequence of events that unfolded on Thursday as “highly confusing”.
It would be unusual for the maker of a security test package to actually implement a test, he said, adding such procedures normally happened only with the agreement of senior transport officials of the country in which the airport is located.
Namibian police said the package was found in routine X-ray screening. Passengers and crew were taken off the plane. They, the luggage and the plane underwent further checks before take-off with a six-hour delay. It arrived safely in Munich.
In a separate scare, police evacuated 230 passengers from a high-speed ICE train in the main rail station of Duesseldorf after a suspicious bag was found on board late on Thursday. But it contained only clothing, according to German media reports.
Additional reporting by William Maclean and Dave Graham; editing by Mark Heinrich