Would-be terrorists in U.S. hobbled by logistics

Published 21 June 2010

Explosives experts say there are many reasons for the string of bomb failures in recent attempts by would-be terrorists in the United States; among them: it is hard to get explosive materials in the United States; putting together a bomb is a complicated process; and these kinds of attacks require a team to get them off the ground

For years, officials have predicted that it is only a matter of time before the car bombs and suicide attacks that are commonplace in Afghanistan and Iraq arrive in the United States.

So far, however, overseas terrorist groups have had little success in launching these kinds of attacks in America. The latest example: the attempted car bombing on 1 May in Times Square. An SUV was loaded with an explosive device that smoked and sparked but never went off.

Explosives experts say there are many reasons for the string of bomb failures. Among them: It is hard to get explosive materials in the United States; putting together a bomb is a complicated process; and these kinds of attacks require a team to get them off the ground.

Internet’s role overstated

NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston writes that despite reports to the contrary, experts say the Internet’s role in guiding do-it-yourself bomb makers has been highly overrated. There are plenty of video guides and recipes for improvised explosives on the Web. Officials, though, say that to suggest watching a video will make you a bomb maker is a little like saying that watching a couple of Major League baseball games on TV will provide everything needed to step up to the plate and connect with a fastball.

 

It is much harder to actually sit down and build and make a functioning bomb than I think has been represented,” says Terry Turchie, the former head of the FBI task force that caught Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber. “You can obtain and acquire the information you need, but having the technical ability to put these bombs together is a totally different story,” he says.

The arrest of Kaczynski in 1995 ended a nearly 20-year mail-bomb spree in which Kaczynski targeted university professors, corporate executives and airplane passengers. He killed three people and injured some two dozen more. Kaczynski was a Harvard-educated math genius with anarchist leanings and, alone in a cabin in rural Montana, he taught himself how to make a bomb from scratch. It took him years of research and testing.

There were gaps in Unabomber attacks,” Turchie says. “We found out later that was because he was trying to perfect his bomb. He was teaching himself the fundamentals of chemistry and engineering. The fact of the matter is, it takes a long time to learn to assemble a bomb without killing yourself.”

Difficult to assemble the Materials, and get it right

Officials

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