PETN Bombs Commonly Used In the Past

Michael Santo's picture

The device used in the Christmas Day attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 has been confirmed to be a PETN bomb. The question now arises, as more details emerge, why it was not found in Nigeria or Amsterdam. Both airports have the full-body scanners necessary to find the device.

The device used by the would-be Detroit bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, used the widely available PETN, which has a long history in terrorism. In fact, Richard Reid, who tried to light a "shoe bomb" on an airliner Dec. 22nd, 2001, used a PETN bomb as well.

PETN bombs were widely used to destroy airplanes in similar incidents the 1970s and 1980s. It was also, Saudi Arabian authorities say, used in an assassination attempt on the country's counterterrorism operations chief in August of this year.

The question is why the PETN bomb that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab used was able to slip by authorities. Granted, the airports involved are in other countries, The Netherlands and Nigeria, but while full body scanners were available in both airports, Abdulmutallab was not put through any.

It is believed that Abdulmutallab carried the PETN for the bomb in a condom or condom-like device strapped to his leg. As such, a metal detetor would not have found the PETN bomg. Airport "puffer" machines, which blow air onto a passenger to collect and analyze residues, would probably have detected the PETN, as would bomb-sniffing dogs.

While the Amsterdam airport has a long reputation for good security, Nigeria's airports have been more of a concern. In fact, the
the U.S. provided full-body scanners to all four international airports in Nigeria, according to the State Department. The scanners were installed in March, May and June of 2008. Despite this, Abdulmutallab slipped his PETN bomb through.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Sunday that Abdulmutallab was on a U.S. terrorist "watch list" but not on a "no-fly list" because of a lack of specific information about his activities. Abdulmutallab has claimed to law enforcement officials that he received training, the PETN bomb, and instructions from al-Qaida in Yemen.

Written by Michael Santo

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