MONTREAL -- A 71-year-old man appeared in court Monday in connection with a bomb scare at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport Sunday.
Anthony Piazza is facing three charges, said Crown prosecutor Alexandre Gauthier, after he allegedly tried to slip bomb-making materials past security in carry-on luggage while planning to take a U.S.-bound flight.
The materials were discovered and any threat was averted. Piazza was arrested Sunday.
"There are three counts: being in the possession of explosive substances, secondly to be in possession and attempting to get those substances inside of a civil airplane and thirdly of mischief for the use of the airport," he explained.
Piazza's defence lawyer elaborated on the suspicious items found by U.S. screening officers in a carry-on bag at Trudeau Airport at 5:45 a.m. Sunday.
"We're talking about bullets, we're talking about powder, lighters," said attorney Louis Morena.
No explosive materials
Police say the carry-on baggage contained components of an explosive device, without any actual explosive materials.
“It was different materials, I'm not going to share the details of that (because) I don't want any suspect to do the same thing, but it was the kind of device that when put together could be part of an explosive device,” said Montreal police Commander Ian Lafreniere.
Police said the item was not a bomb in itself, but could conceivably have been used as a component in an explosive device, which prompted them to search the airport for possible accomplices on Sunday morning.
"It was hidden. It was not put in the bag like a normal thing. It was hidden on purpose," said Lafreniere. "When you look at the suitcase there was some stuff in it that was not normal but no explosive devices. So that's why we've been asking, wondering ourselves would there be something else in someone else's [baggage] so that's why we searched everyone, that's why it took a while [Sunday] morning.”
Police interviewed everybody on the U.S.-bound flight that the suspect had attempted to board in an attempt to evaluate whether any potential accomplices could have been among the travellers.
If found guilty, Piazza could face ten years in prison, though that sentence could be extended if there are more charges laid, explained Gauthier.
Piazza claims he’s innocent, said Morena.
“Yes, in the police report claims he's innocent; the bag belonged to somebody else,” he said, adding that he said someone gave him the bag.
Antony Piazza is not the suspect’s original name. He changed it from Houshang Nazemi, and under that name, he has a criminal record. Nazemi was convicted in 1986 of drug trafficking and possession and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutor Gauthier objected to Piazza, a Canadian citizen, being released on bail. A bail hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Evacuations in LaSalle
The investigation that began at the airport convinced police on Sunday afternoon to search the man's home, a duplex on Airlie St. in LaSalle.
Police went door to door at about 6 p.m. to ask about 20 nearby neighbours to evacuate the area as a cautionary measure.
Media trucks were also shooed from the area and residents told CTV Montreal that they had been told that they'd only have to be gone for a few minutes, only to have police soon tell them they would be gone for hours.
Later in the evening, police enlisted the forces of some high-tech equipment by sending in a small robotic device up the driveway of the home being searched.
The residents were permitted to return home at around 10 p.m. Sunday.
Neighbours decribed Piazza as a friendly man who often says hello and makes small talk. Many said they were shocked the elderly man would be charged with such a crime.
Earlier Sunday morning at the airport, the bomb scare also led authorities to evacuate certain areas, Montreal police spokesperson Jean-Pierre Brabant confirmed. A perimeter was established within the airport until the threat was contained.
A SWAT team was called in to handle the package. After the tactical squad safely took control of the package, it was sent to a lab for analysis. Police say it may take some time before the contents of the package are revealed.
Aeroports de Montreal, which controls the Trudeau Airport, confirmed that they were told by Montreal police to close the U.S. security area at U.S. departures at 9:30 a.m. The area was shut by 10:30 a.m. and reopened by 1:30 p.m. Police could not explain the delay between the discovery of the package and the time the security area was cordoned off.
In total, 16 flights were delayed but none were cancelled. Screening staff was doubled to accelerate processing. An estimated 700 to 800 travelers were believed to have been affected by the delay.