The RCMP say they alerted all appropriate authorities, including Mexican airport officials, about Canadian teenager Skylar Murphy, who had been allowed to board a flight to Mexico after surrendering to security a pipe bomb at Edmonton International Airport.
It took four days — until Sept. 24, 2013 — before airport security officials in Edmonton realized they had obtained a pipe bomb, with an attached nearly three-metre long fuse, from the 18-year-old Murphy of Spruce Grove, Alta.
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Security screeners had not recognized the device was a pipe bomb and had actually tried to return it to Murphy.
The RCMP said they acted immediately once they were told about the pipe bomb. But the Mounties decided to allow Murphy to finish holidaying with his family in Mexico before arresting him on his return to Edmonton on Sept. 27.
“A criminal investigation was initiated immediately, and over the next three days, all appropriate authorities, including Transport Canada, air-carrier security personnel and local airport screening officials in Mexico, were notified and engaged at the appropriate level,” the RCMP said in a statement to CBC News.
“Many security measures were taken to ensure that Mr. Murphy’s return travel to Canada was safe for all of those involved,” the RCMP said, adding that “it was imperative to the RCMP investigation that Mr. Murphy return to Canada, so he could be arrested and face charges stemming from this incident.”
The RCMP issued the statement in response to questions from CBC News about whether they took appropriate action to ensure the safety of the Mexican public, and Murphy’s fellow passengers on the return flight. A spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa has not returned calls.
Sources with direct knowledge of Murphy’s arrest said the teenager was apprehended by a large contingent of RCMP officers, which included a SWAT team, bomb squad and an explosives-sniffing dog.
In their statement, the RCMP said: “Two plain-clothed RCMP officers were dispatched, and once Mr. Murphy was cleared for re-entry by the Canada Border Services Agency at Edmonton International Airport, he was apprehended and taken to Leduc Detachment without incident.”
An RCMP spokesperson did not respond to requests to clarify whether the plainclothes officers were dispatched to Mexico, or simply the Edmonton airport. It is also not known whether the plainclothes officers acted alone in arresting the teenager in Edmonton, or with the larger contingent of officers as described by other sources and reported last week by CBC News.
Security staff failed to recognize pipe bomb
Murphy pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to possession of an explosive device and was given a year’s suspended sentence and a $100 fine. He was also ordered to make a $500 donation to a burn unit.
Court transcripts show RCMP investigators believed Murphy’s story that he and a friend had made a pipe bomb to blow up a shed for fun. Murphy was going to photograph the explosion and had placed the pipe bomb in his camera bag before forgetting it there.
A screener operating a scanning machine noticed something suspicious in Murphy’s bag. Inexplicably, at least three security personnel did not recognize it was a pipe bomb. Several people who subsequently saw the device told CBC News it looks exactly like a pipe bomb.
Retired University of Manitoba professor Peter St. John, an expert in airport security, said he hopes the RCMP immediately took precautionary steps to ensure Murphy did not pose a security risk to Mexicans, and to the passengers on his return flight. He pointed to a recent case in which two radicalized young men from London, Ont., were involved in a massacre at a gas plant in Algeria.
St. John said if the RCMP acted properly, they should have determined if Murphy "had another bomb, or if he was colluding with someone else, or if he was intending to use the bomb abroad,” he said, adding that the RCMP should have assumed “that almost anything could happen. And you would want to look into it as quickly as you possibly could."
Security failure kept quiet
Several sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CBC News the security failure at the Edmonton airport has been kept quiet by authorities. Security staff at the airport employed by Garda, the private security company contracted by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to screen passengers, were told for months that there was no pipe bomb. They were only recently issued a memo that said a pipe bomb had been found, but the memo did not specify at which airport.
An RCMP news release to the media, issued in October, simply stated that Murphy had been charged with possessing an explosive device. It did not disclose that the charge related to a pipe bomb at the Edmonton airport.
This latest statement from the RCMP to CBC News does not address why the Mounties did not disclose that fact.
“The details and circumstances were outlined as appropriate in court documents,” the recent RCMP release states, adding that, “the RCMP is confident all appropriate measures were taken once this event became a criminal investigation.”
But St. John said much more information about what led to a serious security failure needs to be released.
“People are not going to have confidence in the [airport security] system if no explanation is forthcoming from any level of the system,” he said.