Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Arab plates set off car bomb scare

Wrongly parked vehicle wrecked

Two Arab couples on a touristic visit to Gibraltar had their shopping plans cut short yesterday after they parked their car illegally in Bomb House Lane and set off a major security alert.

The Royal Air Force bomb disposal unit arrived at the scene and carried out four controlled explosions on the suspicious vehicle, which was parked in a pedestrian area between the Jewish school and the Line Wall synagogue.

The car, a gold coloured BMW with dual Arab and Moroccan licence plates, sustained significant damage as bomb disposal experts rendered it safe.

Police officers cordoned off roads around the area and midday traffic slowed to a crawl for about an hour and a half. But the incident turned out to be a false alarm, simply a case of a tourist picking a bad spot in which to park.

The two couples – three Syrian nationals and a Moroccan – had come to Gibraltar on a shopping spree.

The driver of the vehicle spoke briefly to reporters at the scene and expressed regret for having innocently generated so much alarm. Even though he will have to pay for repairs to the car himself – there is no chance of compensation from the authorities and his insurance is unlikely to cover it – he remained stoical, even managing an attempt at wry humour. “Now I understand why everybody has motorbikes,” he said.

Police officers took a sober view on the incident, hoping that it would serve as a cautionary lesson in what can happen when people ignore official signs. As one officer explained, the threat of terrorism is real and police have no alternative but to take these incidents very seriously.

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