SOLOMON ISLANDS’ POLICE FOIL AIRPORT ARSON ATTEMPT

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SOLOMON ISLANDS’ POLICE FOIL AIRPORT ARSON ATTEMPT ‘Terrorist act’ in Honiara exposes security flaws

By Eddie Osifelo

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, April 3, 2012) – Police responded swiftly and stopped a man from attempting to set fire to the Aviation office at Honiara International Airport (Henderson) on Sunday afternoon.

The attempt which had been described as more like a terrorist move had caught many by surprise and caused fear amongst passengers preparing to board their flights to Nadi, Fiji, and Brisbane, Australia including the officers working inside the building.

Evacuation of the terminal building was conducted by police and security personnel while the suspect was being detained.

Reports said the attempted incident though failed has exposed the weakness of the Aviation’s security from counteracting any further terrorist attacks in the future.

A witness at the scene said the man believed to be from Rennell-Bellona province surprisingly went past the Aviation’s security guard undetected with a gas cylinder, a match, petrol, a bush knife and tried to light up the building.

"The man was very angry with his wife who worked for Solomon Airlines due to a domestic dispute," the witness claimed.

"How he got passed the security guards was questionable.

"If only he lit up the match the whole building would be in flames."

The witness claimed the man had already turned on the gas cylinder and gas had started leaking from the cylinder.

"This is just another form of a terrorist act on our international airport building.

"Security guards at the airport should now step up their security from further incidents happening in future," the witness said.

It was further revealed the man also destroyed computers inside the office.

Reports said police arrived at the scene before the man could light up the match which could have been catastrophic.

Francis Lomo, permanent secretary of Ministry of Communication and Aviation has condemned the act in its strongest term.

Mr Lomo said it’s an isolated incident between the man and his wife who worked at the Solomon Airlines check-in-counter.

"We had nothing to do with the incident," he said.

"However, the only connection is the breach of security at the airport where the man went inside the building.

"Under the Civil Aviation regulation, anything of this nature can amount to sabotage and terrorism which can carry a hefty sentence and fine," Mr. Lomo said.

He said the implication of the action was the man did it when two international operated flights were at the tarmac.

"The man did it in the presence of foreigners who were travelling in and out of the country," he said. "It will give bad image to our country when we are about to host the Festival of Pacific Arts."

Mr. Lomo said the Ministry has now stepped up security measures after the incident.

"I have directed the head of security to increase the number of people manning the gates and check in counters," he said.

The police media unit yesterday later confirmed that a 32-year old man from Renbel province was arrested in relation to an attempted arson incident.

Police investigation revealed that the suspect gained access to the international terminal building at 12:30pm on Sunday, 1st April.

"The suspect was allegedly armed with a bush knife and a container of petrol and was threatening to burn the building. The accused reportedly entered an office in the International terminal building and damaged several office items."

"Henderson Police were notified by aviation staff and they immediately responded to the incident and subsequently arrested the suspect," the statement said last night.

The suspect was conveyed to Honiara City where he was remanded at the Watch-House pending further police investigation.

Police investigators have charged the suspect with an attempted arson and will lay additional charges as the investigation progresses.

The suspect is expected to appear before the Magistrate’s Court today.

The police investigation is continuing.

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