BELGRADE Serbian authorities found two dummy U.S.-made training missiles en route from Lebanon to the United States on a civil flight via Serbia, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The "captive air training missiles" did not have a warhead, rocket or guidance system, said one source who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were headed to the United States after being used to train the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The two were inert air-to-ground Hellfire missiles, the same model as one that arrived in Cuba by mistake in 2014 and was retrieved last month by U.S. officials and representatives from its maker Lockheed Martin. Cuba said that one had arrived by mistake on a commercial flight from Paris.
In the latest incident, the two inert missiles were discovered in wooden crates by bomb-sniffing dogs at Belgrade airport on Saturday, a source at the Serbian prosecutor's office said. They arrived from Beirut on Air Serbia and were due to be put on another flight to go to Portland, Oregon.
"Experts are determining whether the missiles were equipped with live or training warheads ... They were packed in proper transportation crates and supplied with paperwork," the Serbian source said.
However, the first source familiar with the matter described the discovery of the two inert missiles as a "false positive" and said they were never equipped with a warhead.
The Lebanese army also said the Hellfire missiles were training models, without any explosives in them, and that it was returning to the manufacturer.
"They belonged to the Lebanese army, which decided to send them back to the American company that manufactured them upon agreement with it, in accordance with legal and administrative procedures and after training with them had been completed," the Lebanese army said in a statement carried by the National News Agency.
The AGM 114 Hellfire, made by Lockheed Martin, is an air-to-surface missile which can be used against tanks and other armoured vehicles. In addition to a version with a high-explosive warhead, the Hellfire is also produced as a practice weapon.
Air Serbia said it was helping with the investigation and that security and safety were its main priorities.
On Sunday, Lockheed spokesman Joe Stout said the company had seen a media report about the missiles in Serbia but had no further information. Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the missiles did not belong to the U.S. Department of Defense.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Additional reporting by John Davison in Beirut and by Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Cynthia Osterman)