In a cautionary tale for those using language apps to help them get by on vacation, and a sign of the febrile security situation currently prevailing across the world, a tourist in Lisbon trying to order a fruit juice has found himself arrested for making a terrorist bomb threat.
A note for the waiter
The incident happened outside a restaurant in the Portuguese capital when the 36-year-old Azerbaijani man, a native Russian speaker, wanted to order a drink and used an app to translate the word for “pomegranate”. He wrote the answer down in a note, which he gave to the waiter.
In Russian, the words for pomegranate (granat) and an explosive grenade (granata) are unfortunately similar. It appears the app translated the word for the explosive into Portuguese (granada), instead of the word for the ancient Persian fruit (poma). There is however a stark difference in the two words in Portuguese, so when the waiter saw a note with the word “grenade” written on it, he made a decision to call security forces.
Vigilant or on edge?
Whether the waiter was on edge or just being extra vigilant is not clear. Portugal’s current terror threat level is rated “significant”. The risk was moved up from “moderate” in October, after fatal terrorist shootings at a football match in Belgium and the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.
The atmosphere in France has also been edgy, with a wave of bomb threats causing widespread and frequent evacuations and closures. Public transport systems, trains, schools and infrastructure across the country has been threatened by what ministers have called “little jokers” using various police channels, as well as major Parisian attractions, such as the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. The Justice Minister has said the country was in the grip of a “psychosis.”
When the police got to the scene in Lisbon, the bewildered café-goer was ordered to lie on the floor, then handcuffed by five officers and read his rights. Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã is carrying footage of the arrest.
A major incident type response then followed, with the man taken to a police station for questioning, his hotel room searched, the restaurant inspected and secured, and anti-terrorism liaison protocols and database hunts initiated. The man was later found not to be in possession of any weapons and was released. It is not known whether he was ever given a pomegranate juice.