Airplane explosive is easily detectable, experts say

WASHINGTON — The explosive device used by the would-be Detroit bomber contained a widely available — and easily detected — chemical explosive that has a long history of terrorist use, according to government officials and explosive experts.

The chemical — PETN — is small, powerful and appealing to terrorists. It was a component of the explosive that Richard Reid, the convicted "shoe bomber," used in his 2001 attempt to down an airliner. PETN also was widely used in the plastic explosives terrorists used to blow up airplanes in the 1970s and 1980s.

Investigators say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria hid an explosive in a condom or condomlike bag just below his torso and tried to bring down a Northwest Airlines plane as it was about to land in Detroit after a flight from Amsterdam on Christmas Day.

He also had a syringe filled with liquid. An official said the second part of the explosive concoction was still being tested but appeared to be a liquid explosive. The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

James Crippin, a Colorado explosives expert, and law enforcement officials said modern airport screening machines could have detected the chemical. Airport "puffer" machines — the devices that blow air onto a passenger to collect and analyze residues — would probably have detected the powder, as would bomb-sniffing dogs or a hands-on search using a swab, they said.

Airplane explosive is easily detectable, experts say 12/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 28, 2009 7:57am]

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