Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The next terrorist attack?

If I were a terrorist and I wanted to do some big terrorist deed, I'd ignore heavily guarded targets like airplanes and instead go with the much simpler approach used by Timoth McVeigh: build a bunch of big bombs and start blowing up a lot of multistory buildings.

That's why I find this news story about a man with a Middle Eastern name and bogus construction credentials trying to buy large quantities of ammonium nitrate to be so ominous. (Hat tip: Little Green Footballs.)


Publicola said...

The approach atrributed to Mcveigh is not simple for the same reason that the purchase shouldn't be that troublesome: ANFO (Amonium Nitrate/Fuel Oil) is not that poweful an explosive & to use it effectively as a weapon (on the scale of bringing down a building) is a great feat in & of itself.

Now it may be troubling that someone has the intent to use it as people think Mcveigh did, but if they were that skilled then the purchase of raw materials would be the least of their worries & they'd choose somethign far more effective than ANFO.

To be perfectly clear Mcveigh did not use ANFO alone to do what he did. Amongst the explosive knowledgable folks I've spoken with the consensus is that the single bullet theory of the JFK assasination is almost as credible as the ANFO theory. I'd be more concerned about a military unit or a police unit losing some high grade explosive than someone using ANFO for effect to any large degree.

Libertarian Girl said...

The construction industry uses ammonium nitrate explosives all the time. So it can't be so difficult to make it blow up. Not any harder than learning how to fly a commercial airplane. Probably a lot easier.

Publicola said...

Yes, but they use it for low level tasks, like moving or removing earth, not tearing down buildings from the outside.

I'm not saying ANFO can't do any damage, just that it's far from the best choice for anything other than blowing holes in the dirt.

Course you get enough of any explosive & you can accomplish anything you wish. The main problem from what i understand is that ANFO is not easy to set off in quantity for the optimum effect. It's like trying to light a bunch of different bowls of flammable oat meal more or less. The detonators required to even attempt it would be harder to get than some better quality explosives.

There are some tasks ANFO is good for, like making depressions in the ground or excavating fence post holes. There are many many more which it is not great for, like blowing up buildings from the outside of said building.

So to recap making small quantities of ANFO detonate is not difficult but you get a low yield explosion. To get a higher yield you'd have to have more ANFO & getting a lot of ANFO to detonate properly is not that easy or effective, especially when comapred to other options.

So this guy trying to buy AN is not worrisome to me except for the possible intent. Honestly I'd be glad if someone intent on causing harm did try to use ANFO as the results wouldn't be as tragic as if they used something more potent.

Charles said...

Doesn't seem quite right. Since McVeigh, BATFE and FBI would be on the lookout for purchases that don't fit a construction company or other regular user. Not to mention buying an odd sized lot of the stuff. Probably easier to smuggle in military grade explosives, all things considered about border security, than try to steal it from some installation. There are easier and better places to get explosives for an attack that are comparatively low risk during the getting and then offer camouflage during the operation itself. Why risk sending up red flags early in an operation?