The need for improvised Manufacture of Explosives (IME) awareness // By James Crippin

Published 29 January 2010

The chemicals terrorists use in improvised explosives are not tracked or controlled for the most part because they are simple, ordinary chemicals which are readily available; millions upon millions of ounces of the liquids as well as pounds of the solids are purchased legally every day worldwide; education and awareness – for law enforcement, the military, and the citizenry — are the key to addressing this problem

In attack after attack, terrorists have turned to improvised explosive mixtures either as the main charge or as part of the initiation system. They have done this in an attempt to become more “stealthy” in their acquisition of explosive materials to carry out attacks. Many people are under a false impression that this a new tactic employed by terrorists, but this is not the case. These types of explosives have been used by both foreign and domestic terrorists for a while against a variety of targets ranging from individuals to airplanes to large buildings.

One of the most notable instances is the first attack on the World Trade Center on 26 February, 1993. This attack used large quantities of urea nitrate that was manufactured by the terrorists themselves. It was made by nitrating common urea. Another notable instance was the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, on 19 April 1995. Timothy McVeigh used 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate sensitized with diesel fuel and nitromethane.

In each of these cases the improvised explosive mixture served as the main charge. This held true all the way up to the Bali night club bombing in Indonesia on 12 October 2002. The vehicle bomb that was detonated outside the night clubs after the initial blasts inside the neighboring discos. The explosive component consisted of a pyrotechnic mixture of nitrates and chlorates in addition to other materials. All are easily obtainable and mixable.

There has been a shift, however, to using improvised primary high explosives. These have ranged from using triacetone triperoxide (TATP) as an initiator for other high explosives such as pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) as in the case of shoe bomber Richard Reid (December 2001) attempted bombing, and the more recent attempt by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down NWA flight 253 on Christmas day 2009. Both used a device that contained a base charge of PETN and a TATP initiator. There have also been instances in which these improvised primary high explosives have been used as the main charge as well such as the Hadera, Israel, bus station bombing where a suicide/homicide bomber detonated two kilograms of TATP strapped to his body.

What does this all mean? It means all of us must have our awareness raised when it comes to these types of explosives. It becomes important to recognize not only how easily these materials can be made but also that the vast majority