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Grenade in ex-Soviet republic was real threat to Bush, FBI says

TBILISI, Georgia -- A grenade thrown toward President Bush during a visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia last week was a threat to him and only failed to explode because of a malfunction, the FBI said yesterday.

But an FBI official at the US embassy in Tbilisi stopped short of calling it an assassination attempt against Bush and the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, and the White House said the matter remained under investigation.

The FBI said the grenade, thrown while Bush made a speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square on May 10, had been live and landed within 100 feet of the president.

''We consider this act to be a threat against the health and welfare of both the president of the United States and the president of Georgia as well as the multitude of Georgian people that had turned out at this event," C. Bryan Paarmann, the FBI's legal attache at the embassy said in a statement.

The grenade was thrown while Bush and Saakashvili, joined by their wives, were addressing tens of thousands of people jammed into Tbilisi's Freedom Square. If it had exploded it would have caused significant casualties.

The grenade ''was wrapped in a dark Tartan colored cloth handkerchief when it was tossed into the crowd listening to the president's speech," Paarmann said.

''This hand grenade appears to be a live device that simply failed to function due to a light strike on the blasting cap induced by a slow deployment of the spoon activation device."

Bush was told about the results of the FBI investigation Tuesday and was updated yesterday morning by FBI director Robert Mueller.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush had ''absolutely not" lost confidence in the Secret Service charged with protecting him.

''We have full trust in the Secret Service and their ability to address these matters," he said.

It was the largest crowd at Freedom Square since supporters of Saakashvili gathered there for the 2003 ''Rose Revolution" that piloted him to power. Reporters noted last week that the crowd was so large, people overwhelmed metal detectors, but officials insisted the people closest to the president would have gone through the weapons sweep. A bullet-proof shield had been set up around the podium, with a large gap in front of the microphone.

Asked about these issues, McClellan said: ''Those are all issues that the Secret Service will look at and take into consideration for future events."

Journalists at US television networks scanned videotape of the event but found no images of an object being thrown. Georgian officials said the grenade had hit a bystander and fallen to the ground, but had no leads as to who had thrown it.

''The grenade hit a girl's head. Other details are under investigation. All we know is that the grenade was RGD-5," said Interior Ministry Spokesman Guram Donadze, referring to a type of Soviet-designed fragmentation grenade. Paarman called for witnesses to come forward. A reward of 20,000 laris -- roughly $11,000 -- was offered for information ''leading to the arrest and conviction of this individual."

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