July 21, 2005

Faulty UK bombs imply sloppiness or old explosive

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Poor construction, careless
transportation or use of explosives that were past their 'shelf
life' could explain why four bombs failed to explode properly
on London's transport network on Thursday, experts said.

The devices triggered only small blasts on three
underground trains and a bus in what appeared to be a failed
attempt at a carbon-copy of attacks, blamed on al Qaeda-style
Islamist militants, that killed 56 people on July 7.

This time, no one was killed and only one person wounded.

Witness reports of sounds like bursting balloons or popping
corks suggested that the detonators may have gone off but
failed to ignite the charge, security analysts said.

"It could be they weren't constructed properly, it could be
the explosives exceeded the age of their usefulness, or it
could have been just sloppy handling," said Jim Ludwiczak,
president of Kentucky-based Blasting and Mining Consultants.

He said the explosives used in both the detonator and the
charge would have had a "shelf-life," beyond which they become

The detonator, typically consisting of a pencil-sized
blasting cap with a small amount of highly reactive explosive,
would have to be in intimate contact with the charge for the
bomb to go off properly.

"If the detonator slips out of the explosive, then the
detonator goes off and the explosive won't," Ludwiczak said.


Police refused to be drawn on possible links with the
deadly attacks two weeks ago in which four British Muslims blew
themselves up and killed 52 morning rush-hour travelers.

But analysts saw two main scenarios.

Either the latest attempt was the work of "imitative
amateurs" intent on mounting copycat bombings.

Or it could be a follow-up strike by the same group behind
the first attacks, showing it had more operatives at large --
possibly would-be suicide bombers -- and was capable of acting
despite the highest security in the British capital for years.

Security analysts said the unexploded devices would present
police with a treasure trove of evidence.

"We've got intact bombs. That is forensic El Dorado,"
Crispin Black, director of London-based consultancy Janusian
Security Risk Management, told Britain's Channel Four news.

In upbeat comments to a news conference, London police
chief Ian Blair said: "This may represent a significant
breakthrough, in the sense that there is obviously forensic
material at these scenes which may be very helpful to us."

When 10 bombs exploded aboard four packed commuter trains
in Madrid in March 2004, killing 191 people, police obtained
their first vital leads from three bombs that failed to explode
and were able to make their first arrests almost immediately.

"It should give them a wealth of information about the
explosives used, how the bomb was put together, what components
were used on it," Ludwiczak said. Some components may carry
serial numbers that could help trace their origin.

Police would also be looking for fingerprints, fibres and
DNA evidence on the bombs and the bags in which they were
carried, as well as examining witness reports and security
camera footage to locate suspects who fled the scenes.