You can contact me at rogercdavies(atsquiggle)  If you have a comment and the system won't let you post it, ping me using the @ for (atsquiggle)

This blog has evolved into a review of historical and modern explosive devices, and responses to them. Links are drawn between historical activity and similar activity in the world today. Mostly I focus on what are now called IEDs but I have a loose personal definition of that and wilingly stray into discussions of more traditional munitions, the science and technology behind them, tactical employment and EOD responses. Sometimes it's just about interesting people in one form or another. Comment is welcome and encouraged but I do monitor it and reserve the right to delete inappropriate stuff. Guest posts are always welcome. Avoid any stuff that makes the enemy's job easier for them.

A note on moral perspectives. Throughout this blog there are descriptions of all sorts of people using IEDs, explosives, or suffering the consequences. Some of the people using IEDs are thought of as heroes by some and terrorists by others. One person's good guy fighting for a cause is another person's evil demon.  It's complicated, and history adds another series of filters too. All of us too live in a narrative made up around however we were brought up, what we were taught and what we learned along the way, rightly or wrongly. So if you sense moral ambivalence, one way or the other, well, I'm guilty and I'm not perfect.  By and large though, I have unapologetic sympathy for those dealing with the devices, whether they be soldiers, cops, or whatever, even those who are part of Nazi or other nasty regimes. That's the cool thing about EOD techs - we don't really care who the enemy is.


Entries in Explosives (2)


Shopping for IED Components, Then and Now

Modern terrorism today, where it occurs in the West, frequently revolves around terrorists obtaining innocuous materials from which they make explosives and IEDs.  Over recent years Police in the UK and elsewhere have engaged with pharmacies, chemist shops, fertiliser suppliers and others seeking support from the proprietors to report suspicious acquisition of explosives or other items for IED components. On occasion in the last few years legislation has been discussed which might limit the availability of such things as acetone, peroxide and sulphuric acid.  These modern concerns are sensible and a useful “flag” set to trigger - on occasions, in the last few years, successful police operations have interdicted terrorist attacks by being alerted when a terrorist attempted to buy components or precursors for an IED.
Readers of this blog will know that I have a theme of seeking older patterns for what we regard as modern characteristics of terrorist use of IEDs, and there are useful antecedents here.  I have being studying the court transcripts of historical trials and there is a nice example here:
In the 1880s and 1890s, terrorist IEDs were quite common in major European cities like London and Paris. This meant that the public were aware of the threat, suspicious of certain activity, and police operations were significant, as was their engagement with suppliers of material that might be of use to those with evil intent.
In 1894, two Italian anarchists, Guiseppe Farnara and Francis Polti were prosecuted for possession of explosives with intent to endanger life and property. The two had been attempting to make IEDs with pipe work purchased from engineering companies , to be filled with explosives manufactured from supplies purchased from chemists.  The two Italians had tried to purchase iron piping from an engineering firm run by a Mr Cohen at 240 Blackfriars Road in London. One of the managers who worked for Mr Cohen, Thomas Smith, was suspicious of the Italians and the purpose for which they were acquiring the pipe. He persuaded the Italians to return to the shop at a future date when he would have the piping and end caps ready for them.  Mr Smith then reported his suspicions to the local police station, and a team of police officers subsequently “staked out” the premises waiting for the Italians to return. Smith was also able to elicit that the suspects were having other pipework supplied by another company, Millers, of 44 Lancaster Street Borough Road. The police were able to follow that line of investigation too. So, Cohen’s establishment was staked out and Smith was given clear instructions on how to engage in a dialogue with the terrorists.  The terrorists were put under a major surveillance operation , involving quite a number of police and followed around London. I’m intrigued as to what we would regard as a highly proficient surveillance operation, comparable to today’s surveillance operations - for example, a police sergeant described how a terrorist, carrying the IED components from Cohen's, was followed on to an omnibus. a total of four police officers, part of the surveillance team, operating undercover, were also aboard that same bus. One sat in the seat immediately behind the suspect. After leaving the bus, the suspect apparently carried out anti-surveillance drills, looking for tails. At this point he was arrested. Subsequent investigation of the suspect's living accommodation found explosive recipes and IED manufacturing instructions along with other chemicals including a bottle of Sulphuric Acid. The instructions were disguised as a recipe for “polenta”, and appear to be a chlorate explosive of some kind which would be initiated by the addition of acid.
The terrorists had approached Taylor’s drug company of 66 High Holborn and bought two pounds of Sulphuric Acid in a bottle. 
In the trial the government explosive chemist, Dr DuPre gave expert evidence to the manufacture of the explosives. Col Majendie, the Chief Inspector of Explosives and the nearest equivalent to the head of the bomb squad also gave evidence. Interestingly the court transcript is deliberately vague, I think, when describing the initiation system, and the “polenta”  explosive.
My view is that the device would have been designed to be thrown, and initiated when the device hits a target, so in effect was a very large impact grenade, such as the device used to assasinate the Tsar a few years earlier. But something more sophisticated is possible. Readers might wish to refer to some early blog posts about similar devices. 
I’m also intrigued by the use of the word “polenta” to describe a yellow chlorate based mix or compound, which seems to have similarities to these Irish chlorate based explosives that were encountered in the 1920s.
From this one case we can see that a population who were aware of IED threats in 1894 were able to report suspicious acquisition of components and that the police were able to act on those tips and plan subsequent detailed surveillance operations. 



Dark Web EOD challenges

There are numerous illicit markets on the dark web, one of which is "Evolution".  Here's an interesting item for sale there:

Now I don't want to be accused of publicising this sort of nonsense. So while you all know this already, let me make things explicitly clear:

Handling unknown ordnance, in an unknown state is very dangerous and shipping it through the post is illegal and puts others at risk. If you want to do something dangerous, go and poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick, or juggle a chainsaw in the dark. Ordering this could kill you or others and I hope would result in both the buyer and vendor serving long and uncomfortable jail sentences. Even if it doesn't explode it is still stupid.