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U.S.: Al Qaeda explosives could be stuffed into coats, toys
A teddy bear was confiscated from a 10-year-old boy in July at the Orlando International Airport after a TSA worker noticed what looked like the outline of handgun when the bear passed through the X-ray machine.
By John Mintz and Sara Kehaulani Goo THE WASHINGTON POST
Oct. 14 ? Airport screeners in this country and overseas are on the lookout for suspicious pillows, coats and even stuffed animals after U.S. intelligence concluded that al Qaeda operatives are being trained to apply special chemicals to the material inside to transform them into bombs.
AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS have picked up several indications that al Qaeda is attempting to create a chemical called nitrocellulose to fashion explosive devices that could be smuggled aboard jetliners, according to a warning the Department of Homeland Security sent in August to airlines and airport security officials around the world. ?We judge this type of threat to be real and continuing,? the department said in the Aug. 8 warning. It noted there has been ?persistence [in a] line of reports from several credible, independent sources? that al Qaeda is training to build such bombs. Among other things, confiscated al Qaeda training manuals show the sophistication of its preparations, the document said. Explosives experts said that the detonating power of a nitrocellulose bomb depends on numerous factors ? but most particularly on how tightly the cottonlike material is packed into an area. If small free-standing wisps of it are set on fire, they could blaze up quickly and die down just as fast. But large wads of it tightly crammed into a container of some kind could create a booming detonation, they said.
?It has to be confined in an area to be explosive,? said Gregory G. Baur, a former director of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. ?Producing this requires somebody who has some sophistication and who knows what he?s doing.? Items such as buttons, zippers or wristwatches could be used in tandem with tightly packed nitrocellulose as power sources or ignition components to set off a detonation, the directive said. Baur, who retired in 2000 after 23 years with the Milwaukee police department?s bomb squad, said that he had not heard of terrorists using nitrocellulose but that it is similar in its combustibility to black powder, a substance used as a propellant in ammunition.
TRACE-DETECTION MACHINES U.S. officials said that while airport X-ray machines cannot detect nitrocellulose, another type of technology called a trace-detection machine can. Screeners rub the inside of, say, a briefcase or jacket with a specially treated cotton swab or piece of gauze and then insert the swab into the machine. The machine heats the swab and can detect from the vapors whether explosive chemicals or narcotics are present.
The Homeland Security Department?s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has purchased several thousand trace-detection machines in the past year as part of a broader effort to check for explosives in checked luggage. Nitrocellulose, also called guncotton or cellulose nitrate, can be created by combining cotton or cottonlike material with nitric acid or sulfuric acid, substances that are used in various forms to clean drains and by artists in metal etching. Mixing in nitroglycerine makes the mixture even more dangerous. If dried carefully, it emits no odor, but if dried incompetently, it has a slight etherlike smell, the August memo said. The existence of the warning was reported by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo earlier this month. In the warning, later obtained by The Washington Post, Homeland Security officials told recipients that the document should not be shared with the media or public. TSA spokesman Brian Turmail said his agency and its predecessor, the Federal Aviation Administration, have circulated memos on the threat of explosives hidden in clothing or toys for three years. ?This is a threat that has been anticipated in the design and development of the procedures our screeners follow,? he said. That?s why passengers are asked to remove their jackets and place them, as well as stuffed animals and pillows, on X-ray machines, he said. Many passengers have complained that such procedures don?t seem to make sense. But the TSA pointed to an incident in July when airport screeners found a .22-caliber handgun hidden inside a teddy bear at a Florida airport checkpoint. ?Our screening procedures call for the full scrutiny of jackets, pillows and toys,? Turmail said. The TSA is experimenting with new walk-through portals at airports that blow puffs of air on people to shake loose invisible chemical residue on their clothes, possibly revealing explosives.
HA, I don't even want to fly now for fear of being strip searched. Soon they'll be checking body cavities for weapons.
> can be created by combining cotton or cottonlike material with nitric acid or sulfuric acid
This is incorrect. You cannot nitrate cellulose with sulfuric acid.
> Mixing in nitroglycerine makes the mixture even more dangerous.
Yep... that creates blasting gelatin (dynamite). Of course making nitroglycerine isn't quite as easy as making nitrocellulose...
Plain nitrocellulose isn't that dangerous by itself... they used to use it to make ping-pong balls. You still need a blasting cap to set it off, which should show up on x-ray.. It burns very quickly if lit and leaves little to no ash.
-------------------- Just another spore in the wind.