Germany says suspicious bag in Namibia airport was security test

Airport police in Namibia discovered a suitcase with batteries, wires, and a ticking clock. It was a security test, German police have discovered, though who planted the suspicious bag is unknown.

By , Staff writer

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    Passengers book in their luggage at Windhoek, Namibia's Hosea Kutako International Airport Thursday, Nov. 18. German authorities said an Air Berlin flight from Namibia was delayed Wednesday after police found a suspicious device in baggage in the luggage hall of the airport in the African country's capital Wednesday.
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UPDATE: The suspicious bag found Wednesday in a Namibia airport was a security test, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said today.

Investigators from the German Federal Crime Office (BKA) have determined that the suspicious package was made by an American firm to test airport security measures. It remains unknown who placed the suitcase inside Windhoek airport near a pile of bags bound for Munich.

"BKA officials have examined it and the result is that it is a so-called 'real test suitcase' from a US company," Dr. Maiziere told reporters Friday in Hamburg. "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."

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• A summary of global reports on security issues.

A suitcase containing batteries, wires, and a ticking clock at an airport: Is it a bomb, a decoy, a test, or merely a traveler's innocent personal belongings?

Namibian police at Windhoek airport on Wednesday discovered just such a suspicious bag as it was passing through security screening. Police believe the bag was headed for a plane to Munich, Germany, hours after the German Interior Ministry warned of "concrete indications" of a pending terror attack plot.

But the suitcase lacked something essential: explosives.

Air Berlin spokeswoman Sabine Teller told the Associated Press that no explosives were found in the bag, nor was it clear to whom the bag belonged or if it was necessarily bound for Germany. It did not have a final destination tag.

Germany's Federal Police Office released a statement (available in German only) saying that a routine police security check found the batteries connected by cable to a detonator and a running clock. The office said it dispatched officers from South Africa to Namibia to investigate the package.

All 296 passengers and 10 crew members, as well as all luggage, underwent subsequent security screenings before Air Berlin Flight 7377 departed. The plane arrived in Munich this morning with six-hour delay.

False alarm?

Reuters suspects it was a test. "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." Namibian police inspector Jay Nangolo would not confirm or deny if it was a test.

Der Spiegel also reports that there are "indications that the package could have been a test device designed to check airport security."

CNN lends suspicion that it was a mere travel bag that unfortunately resembled a bomb. "It was no more than a carton full of old dirty clothes, possibly belonging to some tourists who didn't want to pack it in their suitcase," Namibian journalist John Grobler told CNN, relaying information that he said he learned from police and eyewitnesses. "It was a false alarm."

NBC News, meanwhile, quotes German security officials saying that it could have been "a fake bomb" or decoy.

Security up in Germany

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told reporters that the incident proved that “the checks worked."

Dr. Maizière's warning Wednesday of new indications – from a "foreign partner" and independent German investigations – "that Islamist groups continue to plan attacks in the Federal Republic of Germany" have come with an immediate increased police presence across the country and notably in airports and train stations.

The New York Times adds that Pakistani and US officials have also "offered similar accounts of intelligence that pointed to imminent attacks by terrorists trained in Pakistan or Afghanistan." Since October, when reports emerged of a pending attack against Europe, at least 10 of 25 Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters suspected of planning attacks have been killed or captured, according to a US counterterrorism official cited in the Times.

Germany's largest daily newspaper, Bild, reports that the potential attack on Germany could be retaliation for cooperating with US drone strikes on the Afghan-Pakistani border region in early October that allegedly killed several German Islamists.

Police under strain

The German Interior minister has been markedly calm in his previous statements on threats to Germany, and his remarks Wednesday set off a wave of response in Germany.

In a separate editorial, Bild writes: "As of yesterday, the ugly face of Islamist terror has become a bit clearer for us in Germany, in the form of a threat. But we shouldn't allow ourselves to be led astray." The editorial goes on to say that if shoppers stay away from Christmas markets "will have achieved their goal."

But German police have said they are already spread thin and under great strains. "The security forces are already under a great deal of strain," said Rainer Wendt, the head of the German Police Union (DPolG), according to Der Speigel. "There are not many reserves left."

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