An abandoned, broken car battery charger left inside a shopping cart outside the base commissary sparked a bogus bomb scare at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, the Navy said Tuesday.
About 6,000 residents live on the isolated base, and rely on the commissary for basic goods from groceries to footwear.
Residents at the remote base in southeast Cuba viewed the “device” with such suspicion that the Navy scrambled a bomb squad from northern Florida to disarm it.
It was discovered at about 2:30 p.m. Monday in a shopping cart outside the main shopping center for the 6,000 base residents, about a third of them uniformed military personnel.
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The Explosive Ordnance Disposal team flown in from Mayport declared it not dangerous about 10 hours later, and the commissary reopened Tuesday as usual at 9 a.m., according to Navy Chief Keith Bryska, the base public affairs officer.
There appears to be no malice or criminal intent.
Navy Chief Keith Bryska, Guantánamo base spokesman
“There appears to be no malice or criminal intent,” Bryska said in an email from the base.
He called the device a “multi-functional car battery jumper/charger that had split open and was discarded in a shopping cart.”
The Navy Exchange — or NEX, as the commissary is known — is the main shopping center for the 45-square-mile base. It’s typically open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and has a grocery store and deli, as well as liquor, electronics, clothing and gardening departments that service both troops and civilian contractors, some who live on the base with their spouses and children.
It occupies a small strip mall with an adjacent barbershop, a Subway, a souvenir shop and an ATM. McDonald’s is nearby, as is the base church, dive shop and public library.
The shopping center, near a base chapel, McDonald’s and scuba shop, is miles away from the Detention Center Zone holding Guantánamo’s last 91 captives.
The NEX is about five miles away from the Detention Center Zone of 91 war-on-terror captives run by a temporary staff of about 2,000 troops and civilians.
There was another bomb scare occurred in October 2012 after Hurricane Sandy washed up what turned out to be an inert training bomb near a ferry landing on Guantánamo Bay. Monday’s event occurred in a week when the war court was meant to be in session but canceled in part because of the blizzard that paralyzed portions of Washington, D.C.
In Jacksonville, the base’s regional headquarters, Navy spokesman Mike Andrews said Guantánamo base staff had sound reason for concern. “It didn’t appear to be like somebody’s gym bag, something that could’ve just been forgotten,” he said.
NCIS agents were on the scene while the bomb squad sorted out the situation, said Ed Buice of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Bryska said the suspicious object was “noticed in the shopping cart in front of the Navy Exchange and then called in as a suspicious package.”
The base’s Emergency Operation Center put out an alert, and asked anyone with information to come forward. Meantime, the Navy scrambled the bomb squad from Florida.
“While this ultimately was not an explosive device,” Bryska said, “we proceeded out of an abundance of caution, treating the package as potentially explosive until determined otherwise by the appropriate experts.”