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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The Washington Post May 19, 2005

FBI: Grenade in crowd was live, could have hurt Bush

By Dan Eggen

WASHINGTON - A live hand grenade tossed into a crowd in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi last week posed "a threat to the health and welfare" of President Bush and landed close enough that he could have been hit with explosive fragments had it detonated, the FBI and explosives experts said Wednesday.

The FBI's conclusion that the device was a live grenade contradicts earlier statements by Georgian and U.S. officials, who had previously characterized it as a training or engineering device that did not pose a threat to the president during a May 10 speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday that the U.S. Secret Service may review its security procedures in the wake of the incident.

News footage shows that some in the crowd, estimated at 150,000 to 250,000, were able to circumvent metal detectors. Journalists reported that authorities were unable to adequately contain the audience, which waited hours to hear Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The FBI's legal attache in Georgia, Bryan Paarmann, said in a statement issued in Tbilisi that the grenade "appears to be a live device that simply failed to function," apparently because it was wrapped in a "dark Tartan-colored cloth handkerchief" that slowed the movement of the triggering lever, preventing detonation.

"We consider this act to be a threat against the health and welfare of both the president of the United States and the president of Georgia as well as the multitude of Georgian people that had turned out at this event," Paarmann said.

U.S. and Georgian officials have identified the device as a Soviet-era RGD-5 hand grenade, which contains just under 4 ounces of TNT, according to specifications from Soviet weapons manuals. Although the RGD-5's effective range is about 65 feet, some fragments can travel 100 feet or more, according to the specifications.

Military weapons are widespread among Georgian citizens after a decade of upheaval that followed the Soviet Union's collapse. Georgia has waged two wars with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, conflicts that remain unresolved.

John Pike, director of the GlobalSecurity.org, a defense policy think tank, said the incident raises serious questions about the Secret Service's performance.

"Why didn't they have effective perimeter control? That is the question," Pike said. "The system did work in the sense that the munition did not get within its lethal radius. But when you do the arithmetic, it was just barely. It's not giving yourself much margin."

The grenade was thrown as Bush and Saakashvili addressed a huge and enthusiastic crowd in Tbilisi.


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