A question of explosives (and terrorism)

Discussion in 'Sappers' started by Dwarf, May 20, 2009.

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  1. MODS. I don't think I am breaking the rules on this one as the information is spread all over one of the Spanish dailies, but will bow to your wisdom.

    This is probably the best forum for this and if anyone can help with a quick explanation I would be grateful. PM if more appropriate.

    I live out in Catalonia and a few years ago we had the Madrid bombing which the incumbent government attributed to ETA so as not to have problems with the forthcoming elections. The Aznar government had gone along with Bushie and Bliar in Iraq and were desperate to avoid a link with this and the bombing. It was shown to be islamic in origin and the cover-up led to the government losing the elections.
    However certain right-wing elements maintained a conspiracy theory that the police, intelligence services, and the Socialst Party were all invoved to engineer an election under the premise of a lie. And that in reality it was ETA not the islamics.
    Until recently that had been shown to be untrue, except the last couple of days the most extreme newspaper has a technician calling into question the report on the explosives used. This is quite a key report, as they are saying that the explosives used were of a type used by ETA.
    In short they are a bunch of fantasists who are desperate to show they were right all along despite the implausibility of the scenario.

    Not being a huge expert on explosives can I ask how easy it is to detect the signature of different batches of explosives?
    How possible is it that the explosives used by islamics could be of the same composition, or share the same trace elements as those used by ETA?

    Apparently we are talking the difference between a GOMA 2 ECO and Titadyn. The experts found dibutilftalato but (according to the techie) ignored the dinitrotulueno.
    Sorry for using spanish terms, but I imagine they will be universal or not differ too much from the english, apologies if otherwise.

    If anyone can help I would be grateful.
  2. Both of the explosives you talk about are Nitroglycerine based commercial explosives. Dibutilftalato is in real money Dibutyl Pthalate and is a plasticizer used in Plastic Explosives. Dinitrotulueno is Dinitrotoluene - a precursor and present in, TNT. It is also a plasticizer.

    The technician in question is as we say in Scotland, a bumafuck! ETA do not have a patent on the use of the explosives you talk about - everybody is free to steal and use them! This is not a new phenomenon - in the 90's the only word on the lips of the "true" expert was HDS - Highly Deadly Semtex. :D An explosive made in Czechoslovakia to use up surplus Tetryl and PETN!

    Irish Republican and Loyalist terror groups used whatever they could get their hands on e.g. Russian TNT, Commercial Explosives of all sorts, Detonating Cord of all sorts, detonators of all sorts. When times were hard then the made them, even filling detonators with homemade Fulminate of Mercury.

    Detecting individual commercial and military explosives signatures is a legal requirement and is done by the use of taggants. The ICAO Regulations on the Marking of Explosives for the Purpose of Identification provides details on what can be used. What we are not going to discuss is how it is done, sensitivities etc. 8)

    What would be worrying would be if the found explosives that weren't tagged because that would involve very serious breaches of security high up the food chain.

    Oh and ETA were never shy about claiming something and IIRC they didn't on this occassion!
  3. It is very easy to distinguish between explosives based on the residue they leave behind. As RM says the two chemicals you mention are well-known explosive components but also have very wide uses in industry and so finding traces at the seat of the explosion may imply something or nothing. Dinitrotoluene and its more famous relative trinitrotoluene is regularly synthesised (in very small quantities) in schools and universities.

    Islamic terrorists in this country at least have to date been using cheap, easy to home-make explosives; organic peroxides, chapati flour, ANFO etc. These are very hazardous to produce and handle and have very short shelf-lives (and the fact that the 21/7 bombers didn't know this says a lot about their technical sophistication). ETA is more known to be using PE for its increased power and safety.

    Personally, I see who committed the Madrid bombings as a moot point; no-one in the security services would have been fooled, even if it was connected to Iraq the Spanish government couldn't be seen to change its policy on Iraq due to terrorism and the steps to prevent a similar attack would be largely similar whether it was AQ or ETA behind it.
  4. Thanks for the gen gents. It's more or less what I suspected that it would be, but that is a big help.

    We know ETA were not behind the bombing, and so do the Spanish Security Services, however there are elements with a vested interest in causing trouble politically who really want to find that ETA were the baddies all along. So whenever the right wing party get into trouble they wheel out something like this to distract the voters attention, and right now there are a few cases of sleaze coming to light, ring a bell?

    Anyway thanks for the answers.

    Chapati flour?! Brings a whole new dimension to Indian food does it not?
  5. Certainly does. How effective it would have been is anyone's guess, but bear in mind that the 1999 Mont Blanc tunnel fire started with margerine and flour, and grew hot enough for tyres to spontaneously combust.

    Edited for wrong tunnel :oops: