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Monday, December 28, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT (Explosive on Flight 253 Is Among Most Powerful) we find out the following (the bad news part):

Mr. Abdulmutallab, 23, a Nigerian citizen, was charged in a federal criminal complaint on Saturday with the willful attempt to destroy an aircraft with an explosive device.

The complaint identified the explosive as pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN.

Introduced after World War I, PETN is in the same chemical family as nitroglycerin and among the most powerful of explosives. It was the same explosive that Richard C. Reid tried to detonate in his shoes during an American Airlines flight in December 2001.

So, it is possible under the current security regime in place to sneak a powerful explosive onto an airplane.

The good news (substantially dampened by the nature of the bad news, I will allow):

one characteristic of PETN is that it does not easily detonate, and that apparently thwarted Mr. Abdulmutallab, officials said. Dropping it or setting it on fire will not typically detonate it, explosive experts said.

Usually, a shock wave from a blasting cap or an exploding wire detonator is needed to set off PETN. Mr. Abdulmutallab was reported to have used a syringe to try to inject a liquid into the explosive.

So, while it is (it would appear) relatively easy to smuggle PETN onto a plane, getting blasting caps and wire detonators isn’t.

Some other bad news is that “Jimmie C. Oxley, an explosives expert and professor of chemistry at the University of Rhode Island” thinks that Abdulmutallab’s plan was at least theoretically executable: 

Dr. Oxley said it was conceivable that the contents of the syringe were sufficient to set off the PETN. “I’ve been thinking about it,” she said. “I know what I would do now, but I’m not going to tell you.”

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2 Responses to “Good News/Bad News on the Underwear Bomber”

  1. Chris Lawrence Says:

    The fact he’ll be forever known as the “underwear bomber” can’t really sit well with him. Reid will give him hell for it when they’re cellmates soon.

  2. The Gitmo Connection to the Underwear Bomber | The Moderate Voice Says:

    [...] Good News/Bad News on the Underwear Bomber [...]


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