One Week Later: French Training Explosives Still Missing

PARIS (AP) - France is still bedeviled by the case of the missing explosives -- and the country's top cop is not amused.

A week after plastic explosives placed in a traveler's suitcase as part of a sniffer-dog training exercise at Paris' main international airport went missing, French authorities conceded Friday they still have no idea where the material ended up.

Police haven't recovered it despite an exhaustive search, Interior Minister Dominque de Villepin said Friday.

"You don't play with this kind of material,'' an exasperated Villepin told RMC-Info radio. "This is a scandalous individual initiative.''

The explosives, which police say pose no immediate danger because they were not fitted with a detonator, were placed in a random passenger's bag at Charles de Gaulle International Airport by officers working with dogs specially trained to detect hidden bombs.

Police since have ordered a halt to the practice of planting explosives on unsuspecting travelers, which they conceded had been carried out for years on the theory that a real-life airport scenario was the best training venue.

The French public has ridiculed police for the bungled exercise, an embarrassment for France.

Many here have criticized the United States for taking what they see as excessive security measures after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks _ only to be stung by their own security mini-scandal.

Two police officers involved in the exercise stashed the cell-phone sized pack of plastic explosives into the side pocket of the navy blue suitcase as it rolled along a conveyer belt.

One dog successfully identified the bag, but police then lost track of it when they went to fetch a second dog for the exercise.

Airport authorities say they believe the bag went missing between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 and could have wound up on any of about 100 flights.

Authorities at airports in New York and Los Angeles launched a fruitless search for the suitcase after French aviation officials issued a global alert to be on the lookout for the bag.

Villepin said Friday that passenger baggage "should never at any time be involved in such practices.'' He has vowed to punish those responsible.

"One can do special training with bags that have been organized by our gendarmes, but certainly not with individuals' bags,'' he said.