BERLIN, (AFP) – A suspected bomb intercepted in Namibia that was to be put on a Munich-bound charter plane was a harmless US-made dummy used to test security checks, Germany’s interior minister said Friday.
Thomas de Maiziere said it was not immediately clear who had carried out the test, which sparked a major security alert Wednesday, but said he had had no advance knowledge of the purported exercise.
“Experts from the (German) federal police force examined the luggage on site,” De Maiziere told reporters after a security conference with interior ministers from Germany’s 16 states.
“The outcome is that the luggage turned out to be a so-called real test suitcase made by a company in the United States. This company is a manufacturer of alarm and detection systems and these real test suitcases are built to test security measures.”
He said investigators were still examining who placed the suitcase with baggage to be loaded on to an Air Berlin plane at the international airport of the Namibian capital Windhoek, including whether German security forces could have been involved in the test.
“I consider that highly unlikely but that is one of the things we are looking into,” De Maiziere said.
“The important thing for all of us is that no explosives were found in the luggage and that, as far as we know at this point in the investigation, there was at no point a danger to passengers posed by this luggage.”
The revelation is likely to give rise to serious questions about coordination between the international security services if a foreign country was behind the test.
German federal police said Thursday that the suspicious baggage, a laptop bag wrapped in plastic, had been seized by Namibian police and that a subsequent X-ray revealed batteries that were attached with wires to a “detonator” and a ticking clock.
The Air Berlin plane with 296 passengers and 10 crew members on board was delayed six hours before being cleared for take-off to Munich, where it arrived safely early Thursday morning.
The find sparked a probe into whether the bag contained live explosives, one day after De Maiziere said that the security services had received a tip from a “foreign partner” about an attack planned in Germany in the next two weeks.
The government has dispatched heavily armed officers at rail stations, airports and other public spaces and stepped up other security measures.
The head of the German Police Union, Rainer Wendt, said Friday that the state of alert would be maintained until at least the end of the year.
Wendt said that in many cities officers had seen their vacation days for December cancelled in order to provide the beefed-up security presence.
“The security authorities are preparing to maintain the heightened state of alert until at least year’s end,” Wendt told the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.
He said as long as the country’s popular open-air Christmas markets, running from late November to the end of December, are in business “we must expect attacks and will protect the population with a visible presence.”
Berlin’s daily Tagesspiegel newspaper reported, citing US security sources, that the Christmas markets were a potential target.