More on that PETN bomb

The WaPo reports:

But preliminary conclusions indicate that he allegedly used 80 grams of PETN — almost twice as much of the highly explosive material as used by convicted shoe bomber Richard C. Reid.

I\’ve no idea….is that an amount large enough to do serious damage or not?

21 comments on “More on that PETN bomb

  1. It’s one of the two active ingredient in the plastic explosive SEMTEX.

    Its R.E. number is 1.66 (dynamite is 1.00).

    If this had detonated properly, it would have sliced a hole in the fuselage, de-pressurised the cabin, quite possibly have severed control cables or hydraulic lines, and if it threw fuselage shrapnel into a fuel tank, exploded the plane.
    The reason it happened on approach is that planes are a lot less stable too.

  2. According to ABC News, yes, it is:
    “It is a six-inch long packet of the high explosive chemical called PETN, less than a half cup in volume, weighing about 80 grams.

    A government test with 50 grams of PETN blew a hole in the side of an airliner. That was the amount in the bomb carried by the so-called shoe bomber Richard Reid over Christmas 2001.

    The underpants bomb would have been one and a half times as powerful.”

    I’m not sure about that last paragraph, though. Does the explosive power scale linearly?

  3. Having allegedly spent 20 minutes in the lavvy, why didn’t the perp detonate the device there ?

    The ABC pictures look like drugs to me.

  4. 80g of PETN would make about the same bang as a hand grenade. Placed against the side of an aircraft it would easily blow a hole at least the size of a dinner plate.

    Incidentally there is almost no way an amateur could prepare PETN. You’d need anhydrous nitric acid etc. Even making the ‘P’ would require quite a high level of lab skills. You’d certainly arouse suspicion trying to buy it ready-made from a chemist because making PETN is a major use of pentaerythritol.

    It is, however, a very good choice of explosive for a small bomb because it’s powerful and relatively easy to detonate. So, this guy was well-informed and supplied (though not quite well enough, ho, ho. Hope the bastard’s scorched his parts off)

  5. I think there’s a very good chance he’s going to singing in the soprano section of the choir in the future Dave H. I also suspect you’re right about the difficulty of making it and that’s why it didn’t detonate, poor prep. Which is a worry, one day someone might get it right.

    Mark – perhaps (I haven’t read much about it so I could be wrong) he was trying to detonate it close to the wing or something else vulnerable. A big enough hole in the side of a plane can cause the plane to come apart, they’re not that strong, but it’s not a guarantee.

  6. This guy needed to have detonated the material in contact with the fuselage; keeping it in his pants was a dumb idea. If he had removed it while in the toilet and brought it back to a window seat, and had he detonated properly, then the plane would indeed have been fatally compromised. Lucky escape.

  7. Mark Gobell asked:

    >Having allegedly spent 20 minutes in the lavvy, why didn’t the perp detonate the device there ?

    If you were a suicide bomber and had one shot to bring an aircraft down, where would you detonate the device? In the toilets or close to the wing ?

    AbdulMutallab chose seat 19A: over the wing and its hydraulic control system.

    This has been the consistent pattern throughout several attempts. Reid had the window seat in row 29 over the wing. Philippine Airlines Flight 434, built in the toilet detonated under seat 26K over the wing.

  8. “Placed against the side of an aircraft it would easily blow a hole at least the size of a dinner plate.”

    But wouldn’t that have more of an effect at altitude? Rather than as it’s landing?

  9. Clearly, it would make a substantial hole in his testicles. Maybe he should have started rubbing them against the fuselage (as many of the above have suggested) before letting fly.

  10. from experience, at Schiphol airport they don’t fuss unduly about your clear plastic bag.

    Seems as if they were correct

  11. “But wouldn’t that have more of an effect at altitude? Rather than as it’s landing?”

    Excellent point.

  12. Sceptical that Karl D is much cop on anything, given the halfwitted nature of his post.

    You have a Muslim name? You get the “special” security screening” – yes, that would’ve stopped Richard Reid most effectively. FFS, how much of an idiot do you have to be not to get that *if people with Muslim names were singled out for special screening, then terrorists wouldn’t travel under Muslim names*…?

  13. A standard detonator (two inches long and about the same diameter as a pencil) contains a few grammes of PETN and is enough to blow your hand off. 80g of PETN is a handful and as others have indicated it would blow a hole in the side of a plane. Whether this would prove disasterous (as in causing said plane to plummet earthwards) is more debatable. As with real estate the secret to successful demolition is location, location, location, especially with such a small charge.

    Personally I’m more impressed by the method of transport – stuffed in a condom concealed in the guy’s underpants. It’s quite clever. Anyone doing a pat down search who did touch the bomb would probably assume they’ve simply discovered on which side the chap dressed.

  14. “But wouldn’t that have more of an effect at altitude? Rather than as it’s landing?”

    The timing would suggest they are hoping to disable the control systems for the wing so that the plane breaks up or crashes over an urban area. Landing is the best way to ensure that.

    If you crash a plane into Detroit killing hundreds on the ground you have just scored another 9/11.

  15. The timing would suggest they are hoping to disable the control systems for the wing so that the plane breaks up or crashes over an urban area. Landing is the best way to ensure that.

    Or, more likely, that the guy bottled it until the last possible opportunity.

  16. Crashing on a city gives you the News coverage you want. If a plane goes down over the Canadian Shield, all that the News will show is a few desultory shots of scattered wreckage, many hours later. A city gives you flames, demolished houses (tho’ in Detroit, how could they tell?), the sirens of police, fire brigade, ambulances, and interviews with excitable, wailing personages. Just the job – if your job is Terror.

  17. They need to implement that millimetre wave scanner that generates a body image. And those chemical detectors that pick up traces of explosive materials. (Sniffer dogs are no good, they have to be trained out of their normal instinctive behaviour of joyfully sniffing everyones arse. And blokes who frisk other blokes don’t like to concentrate on the dangly bits. Why do you reckon we just dodged a knicker bomb?)

    But mainly we need to instigate more intelligent profiling. It needs to look for suspicious tags. That means people who wear muslim clothing, have muslim names, but also people who are neither, but have anglicised names that don’t fit their appearance.

    And we need to make transport security into a real discipline, with good prospects for those who do it. No more spending 8 hours nodding off in front of a scanner monitor.

  18. I’ve long thought that airport security should be a process of elimination rather than one of positive identification. Much better to quickly decide that the old Chinese woman or her of French schoolgirls are not terrorists and get them through quickly, as opposed to treating everyone as though they were equally likely to be a terrorist.

    Sure, as a young man search me more thoroughly, I don’t mind that: but don’t hold me up for an hour whilst you make absolutely sure that the three Russian grannies in front of me are not packing explosives.

  19. I’d have an Al Queda Veterenarian sew it into a Newfie dog and blast away cargo hold(s). wouldn’t even need to go to Allah.

    Sweet

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