ABU DHABI // A black metal box feared to be a bomb shut down a busy road junction yesterday before being declared a false alarm.
A bomb squad robot carried out a controlled explosion on the box after an anonymous caller reported a "suspicious-looking" object on the pavement between Al Wahda Mall and Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) just before 12.30pm.
"It is our job to investigate any claim or notification that we receive from any average individual, especially if there is a chance that suspicions might prove to be correct," Fahad al Jabri, a criminal investigator with Abu Dhabi Police, said.
Police were already on high alert after the discovery of explosive devices on planes in Dubai and England in the Yemen bomb plot last week.
"We are just being extra careful these days," Mr al Jabri said.
He praised the individual for calling and encouraged the public to report anything they find suspicious to police.
The box, measuring 30cm by 20cm, was found on the pavement in front of SKMC's electricity building. The Abu Dhabi bomb squad dispatched one of their remote-controlled robots, known as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal, which emits sonar waves to detect explosive materials.
Twenty minutes later, once it was clear that no explosives were present, the robot blew the box open. Inside was a variety of work tools, including screwdrivers and hammers, Mr al Jabri said.
The area around the junction of Airport Road and Defence Road was evacuated immediately after the phone tip-off. Traffic police diverted cars away from the area while officers on foot asked residents and workers to stay in their buildings. Ambulances and fire trucks were on standby for any emergencies.
"We had the situation under control in minutes, so even though it did turn out to be a false alarm we had the chance to examine how fast and controlled we would be under dangerous circumstances," said Officer al Jabri.
He said drills were organised four or five times a year to keep teams "on their toes" in case of a real bomb.
"This time it was not a drill but a false alarm, thank God," he said. "However, it gave us a chance to rate ourselves and I would say we did very well."
The main challenge in such a situation, a detective from the Criminal Investigation Department said, is keeping civilians safe without scaring them or giving away too much information.
"We have to repeatedly stop cars from turning down streets that are blocked by police, or tell people to stay in their buildings," he said.
"People just don't want to listen, even to the police."
Salman Husain, from Pakistan, came upon the commotion as he was heading to the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.
"Police arrived very suddenly and asked us all to stand behind the building and not walk anywhere on the street in their direction, but to go the opposite way instead," he said. "They did not tell us why but they seemed to know what they were doing."
Telling civilians would only cause mayhem and panic, Mr al Jabri said.
"It is our job to get to the bottom of alleged threats as quickly as possible and then inform the public once the situation is under control, in order not to cause fear."