Slovakia criticises gardaí over arrest

Wed, Jan 6, 2010, 00:00

The Slovakian government has insisted the authorities in Ireland were aware a passenger was carrying plastic explosives in his bag on a flight to Dublin last Saturday morning before the plane even took off for Ireland.

A strongly worded statement has been issued by the Slovakian Ministry of the Interior defending its handling of the debacle and criticising the actions of the Garda.

The statement also criticised what it claimed was the inaccurate reporting of the case by the media in Ireland.

It pointed out that contrary to media reports in Ireland, plastic explosives had been planted in the luggage of just one passenger, and not eight as has widely been reported.

It said the explosives were planted in the luggage of a passenger, without his consent, at Poprad-Tatry airport in eastern Slovakia on Saturday morning as part of an airport security exercise.

Two portions of the explosives were planted in the bag of a 49-year-old Slovak returning home to Dublin after a Christmas holiday, in a bid to test the effectiveness of new sniffer dogs at the airport.

The dog identified the bag and its handler took one of the parcels from the luggage. As the handler was removing the second parcel of explosives he was called to another job and then forgot to return to the passenger to retrieve the other batch.

The passenger – an electrician who has lived and worked in Dublin for three years – then boarded the 11am Danube Wings flight to Dublin.

When the airport police at Poprad-Tatry realised their mistake the pilot of the flight was contacted by radio while still on the tarmac and informed plastic explosives were in a bag on the plane.

The pilot decided the explosives – which the Slovakians say were not dangerous unless attached to other bomb components – did not pose a safety risk and he took off for Dublin as planned.

The statement from the Slovakian Ministry of the Interior continued that the pilot sent a telex to the authorities in Dublin informing them of the situation.

The Slovak authorities identified the passenger in whose bag the explosives had been placed and contacted him by phone in Dublin on Monday evening. They told him about the explosives and instructed him to wait until he was contacted by the Irish authorities about the matter.

However, the Dublin Airport Authority, which runs Dublin Airport, has issued a statement saying it was not contacted by the Slovaks until Tuesday morning.

The Irish Times understands that a private firm operating at the airport, and not DAA, received the telex that was sent by the pilot before the plane left Slovakia.

It was yesterday morning that the Slovaks rang the DAA and the Dublin airport police to inform then what had happened.

The gardai were immediately contacted and they raided the Slovak man’s flat on Lower Dorset St in Dublin’s north inner city. They closed off the busy road network around the flat for an hour and evacuated homes and businesses.

The area was declared safe at 12.05pm and the explosives removed for examination by the Garda.

The Slovak man was arrested at the flat and detained for three hours at Mountjoy Garda station under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act. He was released when gardaí satisfied themselves the man was completely innocent.

The statement issued by the Slovak Ministry of the Interior suggested the man should never have been arrested.

It said: “(For an) incomprehensible reason, they (the Garda) took the person into custody and undertook further security measures. When we discovered this, we contacted our Irish colleagues. After explaining the situation, our citizen was released with no further consequences.”

The statement said the entire matter had arisen from a mistake by the police dog handler in Poprad-Tatry airport.

“The police officer made a silly and unprofessional mistake, which turned the good purpose of protecting people into a problem. The head of the Border Police is going to undertake disciplinary measures against this police officer and he will investigate possible responsibility of other people as well. We have apologised to the person involved and to his wife. The minister of interior has decided (to) end this type of trainings. We will search for new forms of sniffer dog trainings, so this situation will not be repeated in the future.”