BERLIN // A suspicious suitcase that triggered a bomb scare in a Namibian airport shortly before it was to be loaded on a passenger jet bound for Germany was a dummy placed to test the effectiveness of security screening, the German interior minister said yesterday.
“The item was a so-called real test suitcase prepared by a US company that makes alarm systems,” Thomas de Maiziere told reporters. He said German police were investigating who had placed the dummy in the baggage hall at Windhoek airport on Wednesday. He said it was “highly unlikely” that German authorities were behind the test run, but he did not rule it out.
Namibian police confirmed it was a test device manufactured by a US company, Larry Copello Inc.
The company’s owner, Larry Copello, said by telephone from his office in California that the bag was made by his company. “Yes, it’s ours,” he told Reuters.
Germany’s ZDF news channel cited US security sources as saying US intelligence may have planted the suitcase which had attracted the attention of security staff because it had no destination tag. It was found among luggage due to be loaded onto an A330 passenger jet operated by Air Berlin and bound for Munich.
An X-ray screen found that it contained a detonator, a clock, a battery and wires. Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) sent experts to Namibia to examine the device and found that it contained no explosive, said Mr de Maiziere.
The incident caused a seven-hour delay to the flight because all 296 passengers and 10 crew were forced to disembark and the luggage and cargo were unloaded and subjected to new checks. The plane itself was also examined. The flight arrived safely in Munich early on Thursday morning.
One unconfirmed report in Bild, Germany’s best-selling newspaper, said there was a label on the case that said: “X-Ray Test Object – non-hazardous.”
The incident was one of several false alarms since Mr de Maiziere warned on Wednesday that Islamist militants were planning an attack in Germany at the end of November.
On Thursday, a busy shopping street in central Berlin was closed after an abandoned suitcase was found outside the city’s most exclusive department store, KaDeWe. It was detonated and found to have been empty.
Early yesterday, some 230 people were evacuated from a high-speed inter-city train in the western city of Düsseldorf after passengers reported a suspicious item on board. Bomb experts checked it and sounded the all-clear. “The anti-terror warnings are being taken seriously,” said a police spokesman.
Police patrolling all the airports and main train stations have been equipped with heavier weapons – submachine guns – and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of officers deployed.
Media speculation is mounting that Germany’s Christmas markets may be targeted because they attract large crowds and are a Christian symbol. Many markets are due to open on Monday. Most cities and towns in Germany have at least one market. Millions of people visit them in the run-up to Christmas.
Rainer Wendt, the head of the German Police Union, said officers in many cities had had their leave cancelled for December. “As long as the Christmas markets are open we have to be braced for an attack at any time,” he told Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, a regional newspaper, yesterday.
He said there would be a massive police presence at the markets. “The German police faces the biggest challenge in post-war history,” he said.
Mr de Maiziere has not mentioned any specific targets. He said a foreign partner and Germany’s own security agencies had “concrete indications” an attack was being planned on German soil.
“There are various indications regarding the type of attacks being planned. The ones we are mainly preparing for are that terrorists come from abroad into the country and shortly after their arrival and without warning launch an attack in a building or a public place knowing that they may not survive it themselves,” he told ZDF television on Thursday. “Similar to what happened in Mumbai.”
Mr de Maiziere was referring to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai in which militants belonging to a Pakistani group killed 166 people.
The president of the German Federal Police, Matthias Seeger, said yesterday that the terrorist threat facing Germany was greater than ever before. “Panic and hysteria are unwarranted. But on a scale of one – no danger – to 10 – acute danger of an attack – we’re at 9.0 at the moment,” he told Bild.