Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Adding to last week's comment on the case of the London terrorists in love with the idea of drugstore peroxide as a means to bomb-making, the trial furnished pictures.

Yep, that's flour and peroxide on the floor, left after one of the attempted attacks. Doesn't look impressive, does it? Looks like spilled breakfast mush. Wait, what was that about flour bombs?

In any case, the prosecution has been trying to make the case that the incompetent plans of the Londonistan bombers were scientifically viable. With GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow T-shirt on, DD can say this probably has something to do with the precedent set by the trial of the London ricin ring.

In it, prosecutor Nigel Sweeney, who is also on offense in this trial, tried and failed to convince a jury of the argument that Kamel Bourgass' silly recipes in home-made poison-making were workable. They weren't.

Bourgass was put away, anyway, which was proper.

In the flour and peroxide bomber case, it appears Sweeney is taking more care to convince that the bombs, which fizzled, were deadly. In this, a variety of experts are trotted out to make statements which kind of point in this direction. But only if you don't realize that any number of experts could be found to argue -- like me -- that you can fiddle with drugstore peroxide in your home all you want. You'll never amount to anything, though.

Now, on the other hand, if you're a trained chemist and you're stuck with drugstore peroxide and allowed to do strapped down chicken tests with complete access to laboratory assets then you might be able to come up with something.

But the lab scientist would also realize there are easier ways to skin a cat. For example, throwing concentrated sulfuric acid, a common reagent, would be much more immediate. Or you'd just go to the shelf and get the concentrated peroxide. (We'll get back to this in a moment.)

[Sidebar: Lay reading of spec sheets on various chemicals, like hydrogen peroxide, is often helpful. See here. Note: "Although it is impossible for H2O2 goods on the market to explode, contaminated hydrogen peroxide may exceed the ventilation capacity of its container and decompose. As for products with 65% or more H2O2, this decomposition will be naturally accelerated because the amount of its decomposition heat exceeds that of heat loss to the air. When the temperature of stored hydrogen peroxide rises at the rate of 1 to 2 per hour, this may signal explosion through decomposition."]

Returning to the case, the BBC reported:

"Ms McGavigan, a senior case officer at the Forensics Explosives Laboratory in Kent, tested samples [of the mess pictured above] from his [sic] bag. 'It was comparable to the gelignite and the TNT ...These are both high explosives as well,' she said.'

Remember what DD said about experts.

Comparable to TNT but it wouldn't explode. Blame the detonator.

In any case, the previous day a witness was brought to attest to the chemistry savvy of one of the bombers. He flunked an introductory chemistry course, it was said, and in our really nuts world of anti-terror work, instead of this being an example of a moron, it's the opposite.

Reported the Beeb:

"Ann Obatomi, [one of the terrorist's] chemistry teacher at Enfield College, told the court that when the student had taken the course, the syllabus included rates of reaction and 'looking at the effects of temperature, the use of catalysts, to increase the rate of reaction'.

" 'They would find out if they increase the concentration, that would increase the rate,' she said."

"The court was told that Mr Omar took four hours of chemistry a week but at the end of the academic year, in summer 1999, he failed the course as his attendance tailed off."

Well, it just so happens DD has taught a variety of chemistry and microbiology courses at the college level.

First, let's take a gander at Enfield.

It's the equivalent of a continuing education/community college. This means it's crap. Call me a snob but it needs to be said. Look here, too. A course called "Access to Teaching." Oof, that's a real resume builder!

DD doesn't find failing attendance in a crap school chemistry course very convincing in establishing expertise. However, there it is.

Anyway, since DD did teach first year chemistry at a university, one not for weekend warriors, it can be said with a great deal of certainty that even students who passed still didn't know much about chemistry. And they certainly hadn't been through a course on how to make bombs. It would be fortunate if they could balance elementary chemical reactions on paper, do a simple titration or an easy gravimetric analysis by the end of the year.

On the other hand, if DD was a terrorist and he was waisting time taking a community college course in chemistry, one with a lab section, he would steal some potentially useful reagents just before leaving class for the last time.

Instead, the incompetent class of terrorist can't seem to figure this out, glomming onto making bombs from hundreds of bottles of peroxide or poison from apple thousands of apple seeds or a handful of cherry pits.

And if it is important that to "increase the rate" of a reaction, one can increase the concentration of a reactant, well -- you don't actually need a course to teach you it.

Why this would be important in the trial, DD isn't sure. Presumably to show a judge and jury that a reason for boiling or heating peroxide was to increase concentration. However, one could just as well spend time arguing that as chemists, those in the dock were fools. That's good! It wouldn't seem to make much difference toward the final aim, putting them away.

On the alleged chemistry expertise here. And more here.

Chapatti Flour Gang Convicted.


Anonymous Chemeg said...

At last! Someone who actually recognises that all this crap in the media is just that. Crap.
I'm a degree qualified chemist, and I was cussing and swearing at all this absolute rubbish. Boiling peroxide developer? Dear God! lets just say if they were concentrating peroxide, they would have to be using plastic (not going to like heat) containers or passivated glass. Otherwise they'll just be upping the oxygen content of the air and making water.
Lets address using flour. What were they thinking? Lets make a custard bomb? Finely divided flour aerosols are known to go pop, as evidenced by the odd grain silo going up in smoke from time to time, but once soaked in degraded peroxide? the best you'll get (as evidenced by the results) is a fizzing batter mix. It also annoys the hell out of me that you have so called experts putting thier name to this dossier of cobblers under oath.Truly the proof of the old saying that an expert is the combination of two words. Ex as in has been, and spurt: A drip under pressure.

Lock the idiots up for conspiracy, surely, but don't pretend that they anything other than extremely stupid wannabes.

If they had done the homework properly there are numerous ways of making lethal explosions. I can think of at least 5 which wouldn't need large quantities of materials that could be obtained easily without suspicion. Hell people like the IRA have made stuff like that for years. (But we don't talk about them any more as Tony Blair says they're our friends now)

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hullo =) Im not very wordy or wise but.. I actually think there is real logic in all of this- Let the terrorists or whatever believe that flour and peroxide work.. Let them believe that the only reason it all failed was because the individual was foolhardy- It makes them sooo much easier to catch, and means they retain all of their fingers and thumbs for ease of fingerprinting =D
See my point? We few that question the mass media may know better, and through continuing applied knowledge we will always know what the masses simply are not shown- But in the end this means that those dumb enough to consider themselves a threat will never actually be one, and their backpacks sizzling with the smell of chappati flour might be a clue to the intentions of your latest companion on your daily commute =D

1:32 PM  
Blogger John Philip Mitchell said...

"anonymous" - that approach is called 'security through obscurity' and it doesn't work, ever.

And aye, chemist here too and I laughed when I heard the supposed bomb ingredients. Let's be glad these fools didn't know more but at the same time, let's not pretend they were a real threat in terms of bombing somewhere either.

2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More discussion/research on the subject of the July 21st Flour Power non-bombers is here.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous James said...

I could make a perfectly good high-explosive with one sack of nitrate-based fertiliser and a bottle of barbecue lighting fluid, and rig up a working detonator with a 9v battery and no more than twenty quid's worth of electrical components. Just as well I'm not quite as annoyed with the British government as some, isn't it?

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Renaud OLGIATI said...

But the real problem will always be to find / make / improvise / steal the mercury fulminate, or
lead azide, necessary for a working detonator suitable to make the home-brew go bang.


3:38 PM  

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