Probe into ‘improper’ airport bomb exercise

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The government is conducting a probe into what authorities are now calling an “irregular security exercise” in which undercover police officers passed a fake explosive device and knives through Larnaca airport security.

Justice Minister Anna Koukkides Procopiou ordered the probe to clarify whether any disciplinary offences were committed by the Police in the controversial security exercise.

Police Chief Stelios Papatheodorou appointed as investigating officer the assistant chief of administration Christoforos Mavrommatis.

According to reports, Mavrommatis will deliver his findings at the end of the month.

The probe will focus on actions taken by Yiannakis Xanthou, the head of the Larnaca airport security directorate, who oversaw the exercise.

The drill was executed on 9 March, when police officers easily got dummy explosives and knives through the airport security checks.

Security checks at the Larnaca airport are carried out by a private company stationed after passport control.

A physical search is carried out in case of a warning from x-ray scanners, but no alarm was triggered.

The Police were called upon to investigate how one of their officers secretly ordered a security exercise without notifying the Civil Aviation Department under a predetermined procedure.

Transport Minister Alexis Vafeades said authorities should have been informed beforehand, including the Civil Aviation Department, which reports to the ministry.

Under the legislation, no one has the right to conduct a security exercise/check at airports other than the competent Authority, which in this case is the Department of Civil Aviation under the Ministry of Transport.

The department is staffed by security supervisors and a supervisor (Civil Aviation security officer), who are trained in such matters.

Protocols

In comments to state radio CyBC, the transport minister said that an initial probe found that police officers’ actions lacked legal backing.

“Security drills must follow a protocol for a very simple reason.

“The protocol enables those conducting the audit to record actions so that conclusions can be drawn and corrective action taken.

“This exercise deprived us of the right to be able to draw correct conclusions and take corrective actions,” argued Vafeades.

He added that although the drill lacked legal backing, airport operators, Hermes Airports, have taken corrective measures.

The minister said the ministry would also be stepping in, with a recreation of events, to draw better conclusions. In addition, Vafeades said that EU experts would be called in to advise on the issue.

Last week, the Department of Civil Aviation conducted a 4-day audit of the airport’s security systems.

According to the minister, the audit found security measures and checks to be up to EU standards.

“Although findings may reassure us that we are safe, this does not mean we will stop upgrading measures.

“The incident was real. We will be taking further measures,” said Vafeades.