2005 July 09 Saturday
London Bombs At Most 10 Pounds Each

Less than 40 pounds of bomb material was used.

Citing the results of the first 24 hours of inquiries, Andy Hayman, a senior police officer, said that the four bombs each contained less than 10 pounds of "high explosive," and that the bombs on the three trains were left on the floors of the cars where they exploded, around 100 yards from the stations at King's Cross, Liverpool Street and Edgware Road.

The bomb on the bus exploded either on the floor or on a seat, he said.

Unmarked Semtex stolen from Czechoslovakia is a possibility and is easily available on the black market from Russian mafia and others.

The bombs were probably made from simple, relatively easy-to-obtain plastic explosives, not the higher-grade military plastics like Semtex that would have killed far more people, said Andy Oppenheimer, a weapons expert who consults for Jane's Information Group.

``Any crook with ready cash could obtain this stuff if they knew where to look for it,'' said Alex Standish, the editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest.

One wonders how much effort various European intelligence and police agencies put into running down all the black market plastic explosives.

What is the range of black market prices for Semtex and similar explosives in London, Madrid, and other European cities? Ditto the United States. Is it harder or easier for terrorists to get bomb material in the United States than in Europe?

The Madrid bombs weighed more and more bombs were used. So the Madrid bombings used about 220 pounds of explosives.

Ten pounds is a relatively small bomb, although a blast's power depends more on the type of explosive than the amount. The 10 bombs that killed 191 people on commuter trains in Madrid, Spain last year averaged 22 pounds each; the bombs that killed 33 bystanders and 12 suicide attackers at five targets in Casablanca, Morocco, two years ago were 18 to 22 pounds each.

Why didn't the London bombers use more bombs or bigger bombs? Did they have less money? Is the explosives black market smaller in Britain than in Spain?

The bomber group might have been quite small and may have rapidly and informally set up their attack.

Paul Cornish, the head of the international security program for the London research center Chatham House, said such answers would be the result of slow, steady investigation.

"This doesn't look to be a particularly involved plan - simple bombs, hardly exact timing," he said. "It could have been as simple as four friends eating breakfast in central London, then agreeing to head off and look for buses and trains. There may not have been much planning, and there may have been only a few people involved."

The Czech company Explosia that makes Semtex has a web page defending themselves against charges that their manufacture of Semtex creates dangers for others. For investors they point out that they have a broad product line and are not dependent on Semtex sales for their survival.

A 2002 profile of Semtex inventor Stanislav Brebera in Christian Science Monitor reports experts put worldwide Semtex stockpiles in the tens of thousand of tons.

Semtex became infamous when just 12 ounces of the substance, molded inside a Toshiba cassette recorder, blasted Pan Am flight 103 out of the sky above Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, killing 270 people. A year later, after the Czech Communist regime was toppled, the new president, Vaclav Havel, revealed that the Czechs had exported 900 tons of Semtex to Col. Moammar Qaddafi's Libya and another 1,000 tons to other unstable states, such as Syria, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. Some experts now put worldwide stockpiles of Semtex at 40,000 tons.

After the Lockerbie tragedy, Brebera added metal components and a distinct odor to make Semtex easier to detect. But that did not stop terrorists from using it to bomb the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998, or prevent the IRA, which received about 10 tons of Semtex from Libya, from continuing its attacks.

Lots of Semtex has been stolen.

Substantial quantities of the explosive have been stolen from industrial enterprises in the Czech and Slovak republics for sale on the black market. Shortly before the most recent ban was lifted, Czech police seized 100 kilograms of industrial Semtex from a group of Czech citizens who were planning its illegal sale abroad. In Slovakia in October 1993, some 900 kilograms of the explosive were stolen from the warehouse of a private firm, together with more than 2,000 detonators. Czech officials candidly admit that they have no idea how much Semtex has been stolen or illegally diverted, and the continued black market trade in the explosive seems certain.

But Semtex is far from the only choice available. C4 and many other explosives could have caused the damage seen in London.

The Brits are in a difficult position. Much of the black market explosives trade takes place in other European countries. The sheer volume of goods imported from those European countries into Britain makes bringing in some explosives fairly easy. Therefore the illegal explosives trade can't be stopped enitirely. Still, a bigger effort coordinated across Europe against black market arms trading might reduce the rate of future attacks.

At the same time the people side of the equation would be extremely difficult to fix. A lot of the angry British Muslims were born in Britain as citizens. So deportation isn't going to get rid of them unless the Brits start revoking citizenships based on measures of loyalty. But even then they'd have to identify who rejects the legitimacy of their society thoroughly enough to want to plant bombs.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 July 09 12:00 AM  Terrorists Activities

John S Bolton said at July 9, 2005 12:22 AM:

The false dilemmas of either: achieve complete success, or don't try at all, are set up to engender passivity against evil. Any sizable or well targeted program of deportations of Moslems born outside the country to be defended, will break up terror networks and otherwise reduce their chances. The need to retaliate is of importance; if the moslem imigrant communities are not made to lose hundreds of times as many as their fellows caused to die or be incapacitated, they will take that as encouragement.

Javier Llopis said at July 9, 2005 3:38 AM:

The terrorist band ETA managed to steal several tons of dynamite during the 1998-2000 truce from a French warehouse that was simply guarded by a guy and a lock. This motivated complaints from the Spanish government of the time about explosive control measures in France. It looks like more European countries need to enhance their control of explosive stocks.

Stephen said at July 9, 2005 5:40 AM:

Javier, that brings to mind a passage I read in "Project Orion" by George Dyson (the story of the project to build atomic bomb powered space craft). The book includes reminiscences by some of the characters from the US's 1945-1955 atomic bomb making program. One story I recall is that someone realised that the entire plutonium stockpile was being stored in a small shed right up against the boundary fence of the huge manufacturing site and a long way away from the factory itself. That's okay though because the shed was visited daily by an unarmed security guard doing his rounds.

If I recall rightly, the thing that got them thinking about security was that the FBI learnt that some US ultra-nationalists were playing with the idea of getting their hands on an atomic bomb and setting it off in Red Square in order to start what was thought to be the inevitable war between the US and the commies.

Dave Schuler said at July 9, 2005 1:22 PM:

The amount of explosives used is sufficiently small and the apparent nature of the detonation system (timers) is such that the entire thing could have been carried off by one person (who could conceivably have been the guy who blew himself up on the bus).

John S Bolton said at July 9, 2005 4:51 PM:

This may easily turn out to be another repetition of the alqaeda and moslem terrorists' distinct preference for low technology methods. The do not want to be dependent on intelligent educated and purposeful people any more than they absolutely have to be. They do not want to be vulnerable to rarefied product distribution systems. As Israel has demonstrated, not giving them visas or entry of any kind, cuts them down 90%. Spreading democracy will increase the level of terrorism in the world, since democracies are the targets of terrorism, which exploits media attention to influence popular opinion.

RB said at July 11, 2005 10:12 PM:

It has now been several days since the blasts and the facts that are coming out just don't add up to Al Qeada or the same such groups. I am not saying that it was not them but if it was they seemed to have advanced to an entirely new more sophisticated m o. Of course Madrid was totally different but we still can not be sure who was responsible for that madness. In Madrid, I believe, was it not determined that the bombs had been preplanted? Bali did fit the Al Qeada mold with a suicide bomber followed by a car bomb. Though there are facts such as four bombs that are like that in Madrid,this last sick act of distruction seems to have been a much more precise and coordinated effort, making no use of suicide bombers, and using bombs that Scotland Yard said could not have been home made.

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