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July 7th 2005 London Bombings

Terrorist use of TATP explosive

janes | 22nd July 05 | original url:

Preliminary forensic testing of materials in a house in Leeds, UK, and the scenes of the 7 July terrorist attacks in London have identified traces of Triacetonetriperoxide (TATP), a powerful home-made explosive.

Further testing by explosives forensic experts will still be necessary to confirm the presence of TATP, along with any other explosive produced at that address. If any chemical slurry left over from the production process can be detected, then this too will be subject to analysis.

The terrorists' use of TATP may reflect an awareness of the UK counterterrorism security environment, where any attempt to acquire commercial or military grade explosives is likely to quickly bring a terrorist network to the attention of authorities. A decision to use TATP, which is composed of relatively small quantities of materials widely available on the open market, would have helped to reduce the likelihood of detection by security forces during the logistics phase of the operation.

Triacetonetriperoxide (TATP) is a highly volatile, highly explosive compound made from widely available chemicals, including acetone, hydrogen peroxide and a mineral acid.

Accurate information on the properties of TATP is difficult to locate in open sources, possibly due to concern about its potential use in construction of terrorist IEDs; what material does exist in the public domain is often contradictory and confusing. Explosives such as TNT explode following an input of energy, for example heat or shock. This causes the explosive molecule to break up, the fragments then combining to release energy in the form of heat and light. The difference in energy between the original molecule and its products thus defines the energy liberated from the explosion. However, according to researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, TATP does not react in this way; rather, it explodes by the breaking of each solid TATP molecule to form four molecules of gas (ozone and acetone), without the products reacting with each other. The evolved gas now occupies the volume originally occupied by the solid explosive, but at much higher pressure. The gases expand outwards, causing a shockwave in the air and accelerating the surrounding material to high velocities. The work done by the detonation of TATP is about 80 per cent that of TNT, its detonation velocity being about 5250 m/s.

Richard Evans


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