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Suspected Germany-bound bomb was 'security test'

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.

An airport employee pushes luggage into an Air Berlin plane at Duesseldorf International Airport on November 18 in Germany. A suspected bomb intercepted in Namibia that was to be put on a Munich-bound charter plane was only a US-made dummy used to test security checks, Germany's interior minister has said.

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."

Namibian police said neither the US government nor the German or Namibian governments were behind the security test.

"It will be determined who deposited it. The governments of US, Germany and Namibia were not aware of the parcel," police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga told reporters.

A policeman armed with a machine gun patrols at the main station (Hauptbahnhof) in Frankfurt am Main on November 17. A suspected bomb intercepted in Namibia that was to be put on a Munich-bound charter plane was only a US-made dummy used to test security checks, Germany's interior minister has said.

"It is devoid of truth that the US government put the device there to test how good the Namibian security is."

De Maiziere 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 in fact behind the test.

A police officer patrols at Franz-Josef-Strauss airport in Munich, southern Germany, on November 18. 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.

Joachim Herrmann, interior minister of Bavaria, the state of which Munich is the capital, said it was advisable "to conduct such tests occasionally to determine whether the security checks actually work".

But he told public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk it was "completely unacceptable" to "spark fear and terror among citizens".

"In such cases the management of the airport or the affected airline... must be informed that such a test is taking place," he said.

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.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (right) talks with a consultant at the beginning of a meeting with the country's regional interior ministers on November 19, in Hamburg, northern Germany. 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.

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, told the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that the state of alert would be maintained until at least the end of the year.

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 of Al-Qaeda operatives.