DUBLIN — A 49-year-old electrician emerged Wednesday as an unlikely symbol of what can go wrong in the war on terror after authorities in Slovakia planted an explosive in his backpack to test security — then let it travel all the way to Ireland.
It began Saturday when a policeman in Slovakia slipped 3.4 ounces of plastic explosive into Stefan Gonda's check-in luggage at Bratislava's Poprad-Tatry Airport as he and his wife were returning home to Ireland.
The bomb material and a dummy bomb were hidden in the bag as a training test for a bomb-sniffing dog, that did pinpoint the fake. But the police officer in charge got distracted and failed to remove the real thing, the Slovak Interior Ministry said. That allowed RDX explosive to travel undetected through airport security onto a Danube Wings aircraft.
While the Slovak ministry blamed the incident on "a silly and unprofessional mistake," international security experts expressed disbelief.
Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, called the test "crazy."
"It should be a controlled exercise," Ervin said. "It never should be done to someone unwittingly."
Gonda didn't find out about the explosive until Monday night, when Slovak police called him. Slovakia's deputy prime minister, Robert Kalinak, also telephoned to apologize.
That didn't stop Gonda from being arrested the next morning.
Ireland's national police force, the Garda Siochana, said it received only a vague tip from their Slovak counterparts saying Gonda was suspected of possessing explosives.
So officers pounced Tuesday, closing a busy Dublin intersection at rush hour, evacuating several apartment buildings, sending in a bomb squad and taking Gonda into custody.
Gonda was released three hours later after Slovakia's Embassy intervened. Gonda declined to speak to journalists staking out his apartment.
Tibor Mako, commander of the Slovak Border and Foreign Police, told a news conference Wednesday that the pilot of the Danube Wings aircraft was told about the explosives while taxiing for takeoff — but chose to leave when reassured it couldn't detonate on its own.
Danube Wings, a Slovak airline that began flying to Dublin last month, said air traffic controllers spoke of a "harmless sample" but did not mention explosives.
A Telex warning to the Dublin Airport apparently was misdirected.