Overseas terrorists seeking opportunities in US, says FBI

07 July 2011 16:58  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--Senior US counterterrorism and explosives experts on Thursday warned chemicals producers and distributors that terrorists operating overseas are trying to export new bomb-making technology to radicals in the US.

“Terrorists are always looking for high-value targets and they are always looking for what precursor chemicals they can get their hands on,” said Kirk Yeager, a senior forensic scientist with the FBI.

Speaking on the closing day of the 9th annual Chemical Sector Security Summit, Yeager told 700 industry security specialists that “all the bomb-making information is already on line for the bad guys, and al-Qaeda is using that information, including teaching videos on YouTube, as training materials for terrorists”.

He cited a recently published al-Qaeda magazine article, entitled How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom, as an example of how terrorists seek to use household chemicals to make explosive devices.

While most US terrorist bomb plots and actual attacks have relied on chemical precursors purchased over-the-counter in retail stores, Yeager and another FBI explosives expert cautioned chemical industry executives to be alert for unusual purchase orders or suspicious buyers at the wholesale and commercial levels.

Yeager noted that terrorists can make use of commonly available commercial and retail chemical products to make highly dangerous explosives, such as triacetone triperoxide (TATP), which was used in the July 2005 attacks in London, the UK.

TATP can be made with hydrogen peroxide, acetone and acid, each of which is widely available in such household or personal care items as nail polish remover, toilet bowl and drain cleaners, pool chemicals and others.

Kieran Smith, FBI supervisory special agent for weapons of mass destruction, said that terrorists in Iraq in 2007 tried to make a bomb using chlorine as a component. However, they were limited in access to the 100-pound steel canisters which were the only chlorine-transport containers available in Iraq.

“In this country, however, we have 90-tonne rail tank cars filled with chlorine – and they’re … all over the country,” Smith said.

“Bomb-making technologies developed by terrorists overseas will migrate to the US,” Yeager also said, “which is why we are concerned about the chlorine bomb attempt in Iraq and the wide availability of large-volume chlorine tank cars here in the US.”

Smith said that while highly technical weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear bombs can cause huge casualties and damage, it is very difficult for terrorists to acquire such weapons. Instead, explosives and toxic chemicals pose the more tangible terrorist bomb risks in the US simply because they are more readily available.

“Bad guys will get their hands on whatever chemicals or precursor chemicals they can,” Yeager said. “They don’t care about the dangers of working with these chemicals. They’re willing to blow themselves up in the effort to make mass-casualty bombs.

The FBI officials urged chemical producers and distributors to contact any FBI field office for further information on how to spot potential terrorist chemical purchases. Each of the FBI’s 56 field offices has at least one agent specialist on weapons of mass destruction.

Cosponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) and other industry associations in the Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council, the three-day security conference concluded on Thursday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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