Thursday, November 18, 2010

Germans On Heightened Terror Alert As Authorities Find Suspicious Package In Namibia: UPDATE: Package Was Security Test?

German authorities raised alert levels throughout the country on the heels of warnings and increased chatter about terror attacks against the country. They appear to have been on to something since authorities in Namibia found a suitcase among luggage bound for Munich that contained a fuse, clock and wires.
A statement by the Namibia Airports Company said that “a suspicious parcel” had been found in the luggage screening area in the airport at Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, and that as a result a Air Berlin Flight 7377 was delayed and its 296 passengers and 10 crew members sent back to the terminal and asked to identify their luggage. The flight eventually took of with its passengers and crew, but its cargo was left behind, the statement said. The plane arrived in Munich Thursday morning.

The German Federal Criminal Police said that a scan of the suspicious suitcase showed batteries attached by wires to a fuse and a clock. The Associated Press quoted an Air Berlin spokeswoman, Sabine Teller, as saying that no explosives were found in the bag. Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister, told reporters Thursday that according to preliminary investigations, it appeared likely the bag with the fuse and clock was intended for the Munich flight.

”A lot speaks for the idea that the piece of luggage was supposed to be transported on a plane that was to fly to Munich,” he said in Hamburg, according to Associated Press. He said that the incident proved that “the checks worked” but he declined further comment.

Germany had already dispatched heavily armed police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs on Wednesday to its train stations, airports and key landmarks. In a hastily called news conference in Berlin on Wednesday, Mr. de Maizière, said the government had “concrete indications of a series of attacks planned for the end of November,” and German, Pakistani and American officials offered similar accounts of intelligence that pointed to imminent attacks by terrorists trained in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The officials said that American military drone strikes in those countries had killed some of the plotters and disrupted the plans, but that others were at large and might still strike.

Concern about the possibility of international flights being targeted by terrorists rose last month when two mail bombs were discovered while being sent on cargo planes from Yemen to the U.S. One of them went through a German airport before being found in Britain.
Further tests will be necessary to determine whether the device was actually a live bomb or not. The luggage didn't have a destination address.
The Windhoek-Munich flight was delayed by six hours as all 296 passengers and luggage were subjected to additional checks before takeoff. They arrived in Germany overnight.

Thousands of German holidaymakers travel to Namibia, a former German colony in south-west Africa, each year using Air Berlin.

A spokeswoman for Air Berlin said the package, thought to be a freight item, did not bear a destination address.

The suspicious finding was disclosed at the same time as the interior ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states were discussing new evidence of possible terrorist attacks in Germany, at a meeting in Hamburg.
If they weren't a live device, the items found in Namibia could have been part of a test run to determine how thorough screeners are in other countries or it could have been part of a wider plan to send dummy items through to divert attention from where the real attack is headed. Either plan means that air security experts have to be on their game and security screeners have to be thorough on all luggage passing through their airports lest a terrorist manages to send a bomb on a flight that could not only kill all those on board, but has the potential of killing many on the ground.

If the item didn't bear a destination address, how did it get on board the luggage/cargo manifest in the first place. Is there someone at the airport who managed to stow the item among legitimate cargo? This sounds like a breach of the air security cordon at the Namibia airport or perhaps the suspicious item was delivered to Namibia from another source and Namibian officials spotted the suspicious package.

Reuters is reporting that unnamed German sources are claiming that this was a test package:
One German source said the package may have carried a label indicating it was a security test, though it was not clear who would have been responsible for carrying out this procedure.

Police in Namibia, a former German colony neighbouring South Africa with a population of around two million people, would not comment on this possibility.

"We can't confirm or deny it was a test. We will communicate the outcomes of the investigation to the public as soon as it is finished," said Namibian police inspector Jay Nangolo.

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