News Archive

Grim Terror

by msecadm4921

A seminar at IFSEC of speakers on terrorism heard some grim facts about explosives – and before lunch had to view some stomach-churning images of the carnage done by terror attacks.

Getting hold of ingredients for a bomb, and producing one, is very easy. ‘Soft’ targets – in the UK, such as outside London – are always available to the terrorist. As terror means terrorising the population, an attack on (for instance) Swindon would make everyone in the country feel vulnerable. London, therefore, is not necessarily the prime target. These were among the uncomfortable points made at a BSIA-organised seminar at IFSEC by Dr Steve Murray of the Royal Military College of Science. We need good intelligence before any event; and good security, making the whole of the UK a ‘hard target’: ‘The best way you can protect yourself is make yourself harder to hit than the next man; not very charitable, but from your point of view, a very good philosophy.’ While admitting that there is no such thing as 100 per cent security, he added that the greater the effort on security, the lower the risk. But it does cost more.
<br><br>
Technically capable
<br><br>
It’s wrong to think of the terrorist as not as technically capable as us: ‘They really do understand the science and technology, and they do read the literature.’They will have chemists in their ranks; they do pick up new ideas; and in any case the ‘old hat’ explosives technology dating from World War Two still works. Dr Murray gave some details of what the terrorist might use – indeed is trying to use:
l TATP (triacetonetriperoxide) was in the shoe of Richard Reid, the foiled Atlantic jet ‘shoe bomber’. To give an idea of how the terrorists do not care for their own safety, Dr Murray said that if Reid had tap-danced, he would not have got very far; and if he had stamped his foot hard, he would probably have initiated. TATP has definitely been used in the Middle East, and twice in the UK, against Israeli targets.
l urea nitrate, common enough knowledge to be in chemistry textbooks. A vehicle filled with it was driven into the World Trade Center car park and blown up in 1993.
l Dr Murray pointed to cross-over between terrorist and other criminals’ use of explosives. Phosphorous, with sodium chlorate, have been used by drug dealers to attack police making raids. The dealers have the material in a ball, wrap ball bearings around it, and throw it against a wall; it’s so sensitive that it explodes into fragments.
<br><br>
On the internet
<br><br>
The internet can provide working recipes for explosive devices, Dr Murray said; a search on Yahoo under ‘improvised explosives’ came up with 13,000 sites. The power supply for a bomb can be a battery out of a camera – ideal for letter-bombs. Commonly available switches are excellent for booby-traps. Terrorists are, besides, ingenious. The IRA made a 30-minute timing switch with lead solder and a clothes peg. An electronic timer can last as long as the battery. If a device is plugged into the mains, it could be live for ten years. In that case, the threat can be that someone places an explosives device inside a building as it is built, and seeks to extort money. A device can even be light-sensitive; when you open it, it’s set off: ‘Believe me, you can start getting paranoid, there are so many ways you could set off an explosive device.’ Bombs can be radio-controlled; terrorists have used radio pagers for years. In these days of mobile phones, the mobile itself may be the bomb; the terrorist can set off the ‘bomb’ by ringing you, when the mobile is against your ear. Generally, the first thing you should not do if you suspect an explosive device is touch it – but that’s precisely what people do.The bomber can anticipate that by setting the bomb to go off when it is shaken.
<br><br>
Blown out of the sky
<br><br>
Nor does a bomb, in some places, need to be large to cause devastation. The Lockerbie Pan Am 103 bomb in a radio cassette was only 400 or 500 grammes; all that was needed to blow a jet out of the sky.
<br><br>
Vehicle bomb
<br><br>
‘One of our biggest worries with terrorism is the large vehicle bomb,’ Dr Murray went on, speaking days before blocks were sited around the Houses of Parliament to combat such a threat. The Bishopsgate bomb by the IRA was two or three tonnes (2-3,000 kilos) in weight. Even neighbouring buildings were able to withstand that bomb. ‘Typically, 1,000 kilos will still be breaking windows out to 200, 250m.’ Why such interest in windows? At Bishopsgate, every window in a 27-floor tower was broken and because of the nature of the blast wave goes outwards. At the foot of the bombed building, the broken glass was one foot deep. The IRA’s warning did allow the police to move people away from the area. Glass is inside too. Dr Murray spoke of the central Manchester IRA bomb; in a restroom at Marks & Spencer, a noticeboard looked as if someone had played darts with glass; the board was full of shards. Casualties from glass in an uncleared area could be immense, as far as 200m from a bomb; and imagine evacuating 200m of London. A lorry carrying 40 tonnes of explosives might involve clearing 1.3km, an almost impossible task for any city. A vehicle bomb makes a large hole, which makes any recovery more difficult because communications cabling under the ground is lost.
<br><br>
Killed by fragments
<br><br>
Showing an image of a suicide bomber blown in two, Dr Murray pointed out that the person setting the bomb does not care what happens. Small fragments, travelling at a high velocity, can be heavier and travelling faster than a British Army bullet; hence the possibly high casualties among those in a crowd in the line of sight of a suicide bomber, Dr Murray said. Very likely you would be killed by such a fragment. Dr Murray’s observations that people are very good at stopping bombs, and that the best thing to do is put people between yourself and the bomb, may well read as heartless, however scientifically accurate, but he went on to the point that the terrorist has no compassion. As evidence he showed an image of the remains of a Colombian woman who had an explosive charge around her neck; the bombers were threatening her banker husband to aid a theft. Dr Murray called for a new philosophy in anti-terrorism; whereas the IRA did not mind if they killed people; the ‘new’ terrorists do want to kill and injure. Terrorists are using conventional weapons, too, such as anti-aircraft missiles, in efforts to bring down airliners from the ground – a Sam 7 launcher being used last year unsuccessfully in Kenya. Then there are ‘fuel air devices’. The terrorist delivers fuel into the air, bursts it into a cloud, and there is a fuel air explosion, as happens in accidents. The Provisional IRA sought to create that effect in Warrington; Middle East terror groups enhance their explosives by stacking a vehicle bomb with propane cylinders, to make an expanding cloud of gas. The authorities are particularly bothered about thermobaric devices; Dr Murray showed a Russian promotional video for such a weapon; to martial disco-music the promo showed the weapon firing and buildings collapsing. Given that the Russian armaments industry is selling goods on the open market, this ‘exceptionally good terror weapon’ could get into the hands of terrorists.
<br><br>
Summing up
<br><br>
Dr Murray summed up: ‘So I’m afraid it’s a really negative thing I leave you with; for the terrorist it’s easy; you [the security manager audience] have to be successful all the time; the terrorist only has to be successful once.’
For Royal Military College of Science at Cranfield University

Related News

  • News Archive

    Fear Of IT Failure

    by msecadm4921

    Small businesses live in fear of technology failure, insurer AXA’s Business Risk Survey suggests. For the third year running, small businesses have…

Newsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay on top of security news and events.

© 2024 Professional Security Magazine. All rights reserved.

Website by MSEC Marketing