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Terror Drill Turns Man Into 'Bomber'

PTI 08 Jan 2010, 9:42:46 IST
PTI

A 49-year-old electrician has emerged as an unlikely symbol of what can go wrong in the war on terror after authorities in Slovakia planted an explosive in his backpack to test airport security — then let it travel all the way to Ireland. 

The incredible chain of events included a pilot taking off with the explosives on board, the Slovaks' failure to tell the Dublin airport or police about the incoming ordnance, and the man's arrest days later as Ireland's bomb squad closed in. 

It all began on Saturday when a policeman in Slovakia slipped 96 grams of plastic explosive into Stefan Gonda's check-in luggage at the Poprad-Tatry Airport in central Slovakia as he and his wife were returning home to Ireland after a Christmas visit. 

Slovak authorities said the bomb material and a dummy that smelled like explosives were hidden in the bag as a training test for a bomb-sniffing dog, who pinpointed the fake but missed the real thing. 

But the police officer in charge got distracted and failed to remove the real explosives cache, the Slovak interior ministry said. That allowed the RDX plastic explosive to travel undetected through airport security onto a Danube Wings aircraft. 

While the Slovak ministry blamed the incident on "a silly and unprofessional mistake", Irish officials and international security experts expressed disbelief that the Slovaks had hidden actual explosives in the luggage of an innocent passenger. 

"It's unbelievable, it's astonishing," said Rick Nelson, a former Bush administration official who worked at the National Counterterrorism Center. "I'm not sure what they were thinking, using an unknowing civilian rather than an undercover security official." 

Gonda didn't find out about the explosive hidden in his bag until Monday night, when Slovak police called him and told him where to find it. Slovakia's deputy PM also telephoned to apologize. That didn't stop Gonda from being arrested the next morning. He was released without charge three hours later after Slovakia's embassy intervened with more information. AP