NEW YORK – Last month’s land-mines scare at Toronto’s Lester Pearson
International Airport was the result of a breakdown inside El Al Israel
Airlines, say US Defense Department officials and sources inside the
international freight carrier DHL.
“They [the land mines] should not have
been booked onboard a passenger aircraft... It was a mistake by the carrier [El
Al],” explained a Pentagon official, after a brief internal
The breakdown was eventually caught by airline security,
but set off major alarms at the busy Canadian airport in the process.
all centered around the transport of training equipment for the US Army in Sinai
that El Al did not properly process.
The airline refused public comment,
but did contest who may have been responsible for the
Commercial passenger aircraft are prohibited by international
law from carrying arms, say officials at the United Nations.
September 27, a crate destined for an El Al passenger plane bound for Ben-
Gurion Airport set off screening alarms inside the Vista Cargo warehouse at
Pearson Airport outside Toronto.
El Al security personnel were surprised
to discovered what appeared to be a cache of live land mines.
to the Peel (Ontario) Regional Police, the incident resulted in a brief
evacuation of the cargo facility and a subsequent lockdown.
George Tudos explained: “When the mines were discovered, an evacuation of the
[cargo] facility was ordered...
About 100 people may have been
involved... It lasted about four hours.”
It also brought the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police and an explosives technical crew from the Canadian Army
to the Vista Cargo location.
An investigation conducted by Canadian
police revealed that the military consignment containing the mines was destined
for US Army troops serving in the Multinational Force in Sinai, not for UN
personnel, as was originally reported by various media at the time.
the mines were not “armed” as originally reported.
According to Pentagon
spokeswoman Lt.-Col Rene White, the shipment originated from the US Department
of Defense for use by American military personnel in Israel.
“training” land mines, which contain an inert gas rather than explosives, were
part of a larger shipment sent from a US Army facility in Portsmouth,
On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that a cache of “inert
mortars” was also packed with the land mines.
According to White, the
shipment was turned over to a commercial carrier for transport to Tel Aviv and
The commercial carrier was discovered to be the German
company DHL. DHL in turn hired El Al for the actual transport to
Bea Garcia, a spokeswoman for the freight carrier, confirmed the
booking and that the facility on the manifest, “HMTO-Virginia,” was in fact a US
Army base in Portsmouth.
Garcia explained that the Pentagon does
“occasionally” use commercial freight carriers to transport military
“We are able to transport military cargo,” she
Garcia insisted that all required papers were correctly filled out
She also revealed that a brief investigation of the incident was
conducted by the company’s headquarters in Bonn, Germany.
comply with effective regulatory framework, international law and UN
The shipment was clearly listed as cargo shipment (not to be
placed on a passenger plane). For any further information, please contact El
DHL explained that it flew the cargo from Washington Dulles
International Airport to New York’s Kennedy Airport early in the week of
At JFK, DHL turned over the shipment to El
Sources inside DHL, speaking on background, insisted that El Al at
JFK was clearly told the cargo was not to be placed on a passenger
That restriction, said DHL, is in conformity with numerous
international statutes regulating the transport of military equipment on
“It was given to El Al; they took control of it,”
insisted a DHL executive.
El Al at the airport expressed no concerns or
reservations in accepting the DHL/US Army consignment.
It appears that no
security inspection was performed by the airline at JFK.
For reasons not
clear, El Al decided to transport the cargo overland to Toronto, and then on to
Israel on one of its planes.
DHL confirms that the consignment transited
Canadian and US Customs at the border without any incident.
explained that if all the proper papers were presented at the frontier, the
customs personnel likely waved the El Al cargo through without any
“If it came from the US military and was destined for US
troops nobody would likely stop it,” he said.
The shipment reached
Toronto, and when it was being processed for the jet bound for Israel, the land
mines were reportedly “discovered.”
The cargo, said Tudos, was “initially
inspected” by El Al security personnel inside the Vista warehouse, and when
alarms sounded, officials from Transport Canada intervened.
Canada officials were soon joined by representatives of the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police, the Canadian Army and the Peel (Ontario) Regional
Eventually, an all-clear was given after the Canadian authorities
contacted US Army officials in Virginia and re-screened the crate.
Pentagon’s White explained: “The Defense Department provides realistic-looking
examples of explosive devices as training aids for use primarily by explosive
ordnance disposal technicians. In this incident, a commercial contract carrier
mistakenly attempted to use a passenger airliner for transportation instead of a
cargo aircraft... We regret any alarm that may have occurred.”
officials in Toronto refused to re-take possession of the training arms
shipment, despite the all-clear from airport authorities.
consignment was now blocked by El Al, it was turned over to the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police and the Peel Regional Police for further
The mines were later returned to the US Army, which in
turn shipped them via a US military aircraft to the troops in Sinai, White
Canadian government officials had no additional comment on the
incident other than to say the crate in question had no markings indicating its
El Al offered no official explanation.
insisted that El Al at JFK did direct the mines to be sent on a passenger
aircraft, a violation of numerous air transportation statutes. Such a violation
could have resulted in sanctions by US and Canadian authorities, say UN
Said White in a second statement late on Friday: “The contract
carrier [El Al] shipped the box to Toronto with the intent of placing it on a
El Al has yet to explain how it initially accepted
the controversial cargo at JFK, and failed to screen it before transporting it
across the Canadian border and though two Customs checkpoints to Toronto, only
to eventually block the shipment at the Canadian airport, where it was destined
for a passenger aircraft rather than a cargo plane.
“It [the shipment]
did not make it onboard the aircraft; that is all that matters. This is not a
story,” insisted the El Al source, who refused to be publicly
“All further inquiries should be addressed to the Ministry of
Defense in Tel Aviv,” the source added.