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‘Magic wand’ bomb detector still rules Baghdad checkpoints

(AFP)
Filed on January 24, 2010

BAGHDAD - A bomb detection device newly banned from export in Britain and labelled useless by US forces was still being used at checkpoints in Baghdad on Sunday, to a mixture of confidence and disbelief.

“We know it doesn’t work and that it has been banned but we are continuing to use it,” an Iraqi army lieutenant, shaking his head amid busy traffic, told an AFP correspondent in the capital.

“It is bullshit,” the officer, who was not authorised to speak to the press, said of the ADE651, which consists of a swivelling antenna mounted to a hinge on a pistol-shaped plastic hand-grip. “But still we are lying about it.”

The device, known as “the magic wand,” uses a series of interchangeable credit card size paper cards said to be able to detect explosives such as C4 and TNT, as well as weapons.

It is manufactured by British-based company ATSC, was reputedly sold for between 16,500 and 60,000 dollars per unit, and has become ubiquitous in Iraq, having been bought in large numbers by local security forces.

However, British police last week arrested ATSC director Jim McCormick, 53, on suspicion of fraud by misrepresentation. He was bailed pending further investigation.

Britain banned export of the device after tests showed it was not suitable for bomb detection. Substances as diverse as perfume and metal tooth coatings have previously been shown to falsely alert its antenna.

AFP reporters on Sunday saw the ADE651 being used in Baghdad, the restive northern city of Mosul and the sprawling southern city of Basra.

At checkpoints in the capital, several army officers refused to talk about the device’s capabilities and referred enquiries to their commanders.

An Iraqi policeman, however, defended its use.

“It works very well,” said Rayad Mehdi, who works at a busy checkpoint in Salhiyah, a central Baghdad district, only a few hundred metres (yards) from the justice ministry and the headquarters of Baghdad’s provincial council that were ripped apart by twin suicide vehicle bombs on October 25 last year.

The attacks left 153 people dead and more than 500 wounded and were the deadliest in more than two years.

Mehdi, however, who has been using the ADE651 for more than a year, remained adamant. “It works when I search the cars. It detects everything, even hydraulic oil and CDs.”

Faisal Ghazi, 25, a security guard who uses the ADE651 at the entrance of the nearby Al-Mansour Hotel, had not heard about the British export ban but insisted it was good equipment.

“It works very well if you have received proper training,” Ghazi said of the device which does not need batteries but instead relies on the user’s static electricity, according to ATSC’s promotional material.

Major General Jihad al-Jabiri, chief of Iraq’s interior ministry directorate for combating explosives, was forced to defend the ADE651 last November after his US counterpart said he had “no confidence that these work.”

“Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” Jabiri said at the time.

The British ban is limited to Iraq and Afghanistan, because the ADE651 is not classed as military technology. The new restrictions were based on the risk that sale of such goods “could cause harm to UK and other friendly forces.”

The British embassy in Baghdad has also raised London’s concerns about the ADE651 with Iraqi authorities.

The government in Baghdad has made no official statement.

The head of the Iraqi parliament’s defence and security committee, however, said he would push for an investigation.

“We will start to gather evidence to find out how this piece of equipment was sold to Iraq,” Hadi Al-Ameri, chair of the committee, told AFP.

“If the (British) company was responsible we will seek compensation via the ministry of foreign affairs.”

Ammar Touma, a member of the committee, earlier said he wanted “to know if corruption was involved.”





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