F.B.I. Says Grenade Found Near Bush Podium Was Live but Misfired


New York Times

May 18, 2005

WASHINGTON, May 18 - The F.B.I. said today that an explosive device found near the spot where President Bush spoke last week in a crowded square in Tbilisi, Georgia, was a live hand grenade that had been thrown to within 100 feet of him but malfunctioned.

"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 for the event," Bryan Paarmann of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who is the legal attaché at the United States Embassy in Tbilisi, said in a statement.

The grenade did not explode only because its triggering mechanism did not operate properly, Mr. Paarmann said.

The new details suggested that the May 10 incident was more serious than first thought, and raised questions about the adequacy of security at the event, which was attended by tens of thousands of people or more.

What now appears to have been an attack on the president went unnoticed by the Secret Service during Mr. Bush's speech, and the White House was only informed that something had happened after he left Georgia following his speech. Initial reports in Georgia had suggested that the device was old and of a type that would not scatter shrapnel, and some American law enforcement officials initially expressed skepticism that Mr. Bush had ever been at any risk.

According to Mr. Paarmann's statement, the grenade was tossed around 1:30 p.m. as Mr. Bush was speaking at Freedom Square in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. Onstage with him was President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia. The grenade, the statement said, "was tossed in the general direction of the main stage and landed within 100 feet of the podium."

The explosive device "was wrapped in a dark Tartan colored cloth handkerchief when it was tossed into the crowd listening to the president's speech," the statement said.

The grenade was recovered by Georgian security officials during or immediately after Mr. Bush's speech. United States law enforcement officials did not describe the grenade in detail today, but their characterization of the threat to Mr. Bush suggested that it would have been capable of killing or injuring many people.

"From initial qualified testing, this hand grenade appears to be a live device that simply failed to function due to a light strike on the blasting cap induced by a slow deployment of the spoon activation device," Mr. Paarmann said in the statement, referring to the mechanism used to trigger the grenade. The spoon is the lever that pops up when the grenade leaves the thrower's hand; it is supposed to touch off the primer that explodes the grenade, typically a few seconds later.

Mr. Bush is generally protected by rings of security that get more concentrated the closer they are to him. On the stage in Tbilisi, he was at least partly protected by sheets of what seemed to be bulletproof glass, though not directly in front of him.

The chief White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said that Mr. Bush had been informed of the investigation's findings late Tuesday, and got more details this morning at his intelligence briefing.

Asked to describe Mr. Bush's reaction, Mr. McClellan did not respond directly. "We want to see the results of the investigation and know more about what the facts are," he said.

He added that the Secret Service "is looking into" questions about whether security at the event was adequate, including whether some people in the square were able to get within sight of Mr. Bush without going through metal detectors. He said Mr. Bush has full trust in the Secret Service, and referred other questions on security measures to the Secret Service.

A Secret Service spokesman in Washington, Tom Mazer, said the service would not make any comment because the investigation was continuing.

In Tbilisi, Mr. Paarmann made an appeal for anyone who saw what happened or had videotapes or photographs of the incident to come forward. He said the United States was "extremely pleased" with the cooperation from Georgia's law enforcement agencies.