Police Say They Have Evidence Ranging From Bomb-Making Materials To Martyrdom Videos; Huge Investigation Continues - Story Finds Limited Space In British News Cycle [After the Mutiny, Before the Cricket]
Meanwhile, Chemists Wonder: How Could They Possibly Have Thought They Could Do This?
By Winter Patriot on 8/23/2006, 5:00am PT  

Guest Blogged by Winter Patriot

An enormous investigation continues in Great Britain, where eight people were charged with conspiracy to murder on Monday and lesser charges were laid against three others. All eleven of the suspects who were charged Monday appeared in court on Tuesday.

From Monday's account in the Mirror: 11 Charged Over Airline Bomb Plot, police described the alleged evidence as follows (with my emphasis):

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said this afternoon: "First there is evidence from surveillance carried out before August 10.

"This includes important, indeed highly significant, video and audio recordings.

"Since August 10 we have found bomb-making equipment. There are chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, electrical components, documents and other items.

"We have also found a number of video recordings. These are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos."

As for the charges...

Susan Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Division, said: "Eight individuals [Ahmed Abdullah Ali, Tanvir Hussain, Umar Islam, Arafat Waheed Khan, Assad Ali Sarwar, Adam Khatib, Ibrahim Savant and Waheed Aman --- WP] have been charged with two offences relating to an alleged plot to manufacture and smuggle the component parts of improvised explosive devices on to aircraft and assemble and detonate them on board.

"Those individuals have been charged with conspiracy to murder and the new offence of preparing acts of terrorism contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006.

"In addition, three have been charged with other offences under the Terrorism Act 2000.

"One has been charged with possession of articles useful to a person preparing an act of terrorism and two with failing to disclose information of material assistance in preventing an act of terrorism."

Tuesday's news reports concerned the arraignment. From the New York Times British Plot Suspects Are Arraigned in Court:

A British court today began arraigning the people who have been arrested and charged in connection with a suspected plot to blow up United States-bound airliners.

Eleven of the 23 people arrested in the case were charged on Monday; the first four of them to appear before a judge today were all ordered held in custody. Prosecutors expect to arraign the rest of the 11 before the end of the day.
...
So far, Mr. Clarke said, the police have found bomb-making chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide and electrical components, recalling earlier British and American accounts that there was a plan to mix liquids into an explosive cocktail once they had been carried aboard airliners heading for American cities.

Mr. Clarke went on to say: “We have also found a number of video recordings — these are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos. This has all given us a clearer picture of the alleged plot.”

The NYT offers some additional details:

The 11 suspects who were charged Monday seemed to be mostly British Muslims of Pakistani descent, but one was identified as Umar Islam, also known as Brian Young, a convert to Islam. Another was Ibrahim Savant, also a convert.

The eight people charged with conspiracy to murder were also charged with planning “to smuggle the component parts of improvised explosive devices onto aircraft and assemble them and detonate them on board.”

Why hydrogen peroxide? It's a key ingredient (the "P") in TATP, which is short for "Tri-Acetone Tri-Peroxide", also known as "Acetone Peroxide". It's the explosive the accused would-be bombers were allegedly trying to mix and detonate aboard airlplanes.

According to Global Security dot Org:

A new terrorist explosive, triacetone triperoxide (TATP), has recently appeared as a weapon in the Middle East. TATP has been used by suicide bombers in Israel, and was chosen as a detonator in 2001 by the thwarted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. It can be as or more powerful than military analogs. TATP is one of the most sensitive explosives known, being extremely sensitive to impact, temperature change and friction.
...
TATP can be easily prepared in a basement lab using commercially available starting materials obtained from, e.g., hardware stores, pharmacies, and stores selling cosmetics. TATP is a fairly easy explosive to make, as far as explosives manufacturing goes. All it takes is acetone, hydrogen peroxide (3% medicinal peroxide is not concentrated enough), and a strong acid like hydrochloric or sulfuric acid. I don't recommended mixing up a batch for Independence Day celebrations because it's easy to blow yourself up when you make it.

The graphic at the top of this post shows the chemical structure of TATP. It's probably a familiar diagram to some of our British friends, because last summer --- in July of 2005 --- TATP was allegedly used in the London subway bombings.

Philippe Naughton, writing last summer for Times Online, told us TATP is suicide bombers' weapon of choice:

In the occupied Palestinian territories, you can tell who the 'engineers' are: they are the ones covered in burn marks who might be missing fingers, or even a whole hand.

The engineers are the bomb-makers for the young suicide bombers sent to kill Israelis by the Islamic militant organisations such as Hamas. And their explosive of choice, triacetone triperoxide or TATP - named today as an explosive used in last week's London bombings - is the reason for their disfigurement.
...
as the Palestinian bomb-makers will attest - 40 Palestinians are thought to have been killed making or handling the explosive - it is highly unstable and sensitive to heat and friction. Not for nothing is it known as "Mother of Satan".

As one British explosives expert said today of the news that TATP was involved in the four London blasts: "Frankly, I wouldn't like to be wandering around with 10lb of TATP on my back."

Thomas Greene in The Register asks: Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?

First, you've got to get adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This is hard to come by, so a large quantity of the three per cent solution sold in pharmacies might have to be concentrated by boiling off the water. Only this is risky, and can lead to mission failure by means of burning down your makeshift lab before a single infidel has been harmed.

But let's assume that you can obtain it in the required concentration, or cook it from a dilute solution without ruining your operation. Fine. The remaining ingredients, acetone and sulfuric acid, are far easier to obtain, and we can assume that you've got them on hand.

Now for the fun part. Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, so long as it remains cool. Don't forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked "perishable foods"), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You're going to need them.

It's best to fly first class and order Champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate - especially if you have those cold gel-packs handy to supplement the ice, and the Styrofoam chiller handy for insulation - to get you through the cookery without starting a fire in the lavvie.
...
Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.

Edgar J. Steele has more on the feasibility angle:

A friend with a doctorate in chemistry sent me the following:

"According to the official government story, TATP (triacetone triperoxide) was the explosive these conspirators were planning to manufacture aboard the airliners.

This story is not plausible for a number of reasons, but let's take a quick look at just enough of the science so as not to provide anybody with a guide to making an actual bomb: TATP is made from hydrogen peroxide solution, acetone and sulfuric acid. The reaction can be carried out with just about any concentration, but is best done with concentrated solutions of both peroxide and acetone.

The peroxide and acetone can be pre-mixed, but the acid must be added, a drop at a time, to the solution, all the while continuously stirring it and keeping it continuously chilled. This step of the process will take several hours, during which the fumes given off will be substantial and quite overpowering, thus a lab-quality air evacuation system is required. (ES: right here, the whole idea of a TATP bomb becomes ludicrous. Difficult in a lab, but impossible in an airplane due to the environment - the toilet - and the time requirement.)

"One then must let the resulting solution stand for an extended period at temperatures above the freezing point, but definitely below 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit). Above 10 Celsius, the TATP does not form; instead, diperoxide forms, which is so unstable it cannot be worked with. The time required for the reaction to go to completion is at least 24 hours and often several days.

Once the TATP forms, it crystallizes as snowflakes from the solution and must be harvested by filtration and the liquid discarded. The TATP then is dried and carefully stored until needed. It must be stored below 10 Celsius or it converts spontaneously to the unstable diperoxide.

There is neither the time, the workspace nor the other materials required to make TATP on an airliner. The time required, the temperatures required, the workspace required and the need to dry the chemical prior to use preclude this story being reasonable. This chemical process is much more sensitive than making, for example, nitroglycerin."

The technically proficient reading this will recognize that a necessary step has been omitted and some others have been altered in critical ways. None of these purposeful camouflages alter the ingredients or the time, care and equipment required. Nor will I describe how TATP can be fabricated beforehand and then detonated aboard an airliner in flight. After all, though we want to demonstrate the impossibility of what has been claimed, we don't want anybody actually trying this at home...

What can we conclude from this report, if it's true?

Steele has some ideas:

[i]t's impossible to make TATP as claimed, yet still they confiscate liquids from us, including sodas and baby formula, not to mention toothpaste and, even, lipsticks? Even if possible to make TATP as claimed, the individual smells of peroxide, acetone and sulfuric acid are obvious enough to preclude people having to be shaken down and terrorized by the airport Gestapo in this fashion. You have to wonder: Just exactly what is going on?

Steele apparently thinks it means there was no plot and Bush and Blair are lying. I'm not about to vouch for their truth-telling skills, but I beg to point out that there are several possibilities at this point. And they seem to fall into three main categories:

[1] There was no plot: Bush and Blair are lying.

[2] There was indeed a plot but we don't know much --- or anything --- about it because Bush and Blair and many other people are lying.

[3] There was indeed a plot and it was exactly as described in the charges, but the alleged plotters were too clueless about TATP to realize that their plan couldn't possibly work ... not for one plane, not for one in a dozen, certainly not for a dozen planes simultaneously.

If I were investigating this, I would want to look much more closely before I said very much more.

But of course there's no need for me to investigate this, because ... because ... because ... did you hear about the mutiny??

Daily Mail [Sunday, August 20]
Mutiny as passengers refuse to fly until Asians are removed:

Passengers refuse to allow holiday jet to take off until two Asian men are thrown off plane

British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.

Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it.

The incident fuels the row over airport security following the arrest of more than 20 people allegedly planning the suicide-bombing of transatlantic jets from the UK to America. It comes amid growing demands for passenger-profiling and selective security checks.

It also raised fears that more travellers will take the law into their own hands - effectively conducting their own 'passenger profiles'.
...
The trouble in Malaga flared last Wednesday as two British citizens in their 20s waited in the departure lounge to board the pre-dawn flight and were heard talking what passengers took to be Arabic. Worries spread after a female passenger said she had heard something that alarmed her.

Passengers noticed that, despite the heat, the pair were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers and were regularly checking their watches.

Initially, six passengers refused to board the flight. On board the aircraft, word reached one family. To the astonishment of cabin crew, they stood up and walked off, followed quickly by others.

[BBC: Sunday, August 20]
Passengers explain pair's removal:

Passengers on a Manchester-bound flight have described how two men were removed from the plane because other travellers thought they were speaking Arabic.

Heath Schofield, a passenger on the flight from Malaga, described it as being a "bit like Chinese whispers".

Monarch Airlines said passengers had demanded the men were removed because they were acting suspiciously.

Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood said it was disgraceful the pair seemed to have been judged on their skin colour.

The men - reported to be of Asian or Middle Eastern appearance - were taken from Wednesday's flight ZB 613 and questioned but were allowed to fly back to the UK later in the week.

[Mirror: Monday, August 21]
Wearing a Coat Doesn't Make You a Terrorist:

MUSLIM leaders yesterday blasted British passengers who staged a mutiny on a holiday jet after accusing two innocent Asian men of being terrorists.

The packed flight from Malaga to Manchester was delayed more than three hours after worried trippers stormed off and refused to fly until the British-born Muslims were removed.

The pair - later cleared by police - aroused suspicions by speaking Arabic and wearing heavy overcoats in the Mediterranean heat.

But yesterday angry Muslim elders slammed airline chiefs for over-reacting. Muslim Association of Britain spokesman Ismail Farhat said: "Wearing a coat in summer doesn't make someone a terrorist. It's absolutely disgraceful.

[Telegraph: Monday, August 21]
Jet scare over Asian men 'helps terrorists':

An airline yesterday stood by its decision to remove two Asian men from a holiday jet bound for Britain despite criticism from a Muslim group.

The two passengers were asked to leave Monarch flight ZB613 from Malaga to Manchester, apparently because other passengers became alarmed that the men were wearing heavy clothing and kept checking their watches. Cabin crew informed the Spanish authorities of the passengers' fears and the men were taken off the flight.

One of the passengers told a Sunday newspaper: "Some of the older children, who had seen the terror alert on television, were starting to mutter things like 'Those two look like they are bombers'. Some of the passengers were in tears."

After security checks the men boarded a later flight.
...
Patrick Mercer, the Conservative homeland security spokesman, described the incident as a victory for terrorists.

"These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally. For those unfortunate two men to be victimised because of the colour of their skin is just nonsense."

[National Ledger: Sunday, August 20]
Passengers on a Plane:

A Tory Homeland Security spokesman Patrick Mercer blasted the passengers’ actions with: “This is a victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorized into behaving irrationally!” But, was their behavior irrational?
...
[H]ow are passengers supposed to protect themselves and their loved ones from the radical Islamic terrorist menace? Apparently, the head-in-the-sand syndrome has even spread to this most currently vulnerable airline industry. It appears that if “we the flying public” are going to be safe, no one but ourselves is going to save us. The hell with political correctness! We need more mutinies of this nature. It’s our money paying for these trips and, ultimately, our lives that are in jeopardy. If the airlines and our “PC” brethren don’t like it, I say “Then follow your own rules!”

I now doubt that anything will bring the so-called “moderate Muslims” out from their hiding places, in order to speak against their suicidal and homicidal brethren. But, at least a few, or many, more of these mutinies might just get the airlines to step up and listen. Contrary to politically-correct opinion, profiling is a good thing—at least if you want to have your best chance of remaining alive.

It's clear that this story is much more interesting than the detailed analysis concerning the conditions under which TATP can be mixed, and its prominence in the British press is entirely understandable --- especially since the "mutiny" was largely ignored when it happened on Wednesday, with most of the press coverage coming along several days later. But even the Mutiny of the Airline Passengers became old news very quickly, nudged aside not so much by the charges laid Monday but by something else that happened between England and Pakistan: something much more important. So important, even the New York Times couldn't fail to notice:

Cricket Imbroglio Offers Diversion in Britain:

For anyone who considers the laws of English cricket to be incomprehensible, or, indeed, for anyone who thought the mildly outraged term “it’s just not cricket” might imply a certain decorum, think again.

On Sunday, an umpire presiding at a high-profile game between England and Pakistan, ruled that, in his belief, Pakistani players had been tampering with the ball and he told Pakistani players of his suspicion, awarding England five bonus runs, or points.

By way of protest, the Pakistanis refused to leave their dressing room after a scheduled break for tea. The Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, a person known for contentious rulings against some Asian teams, then removed the “bails” — those little wooden bits that fit horizontally across the top of the larger wooden stakes called stumps — denoting that Pakistan had forfeited the game.

The Pakistan team, nonetheless, walked back onto the field of play. But by this time the umpires had walked off, having ruled that Pakistan’s no-show constituted a terminal offense. Game to England — the first time in 129 years of so-called Test matches between national teams that a game had been forfeited in this way.

After days of worry here about the role of Pakistan and Britons of Pakistani descent in Britain’s latest terrorism alert, the cricketing imbroglio offered something of a diversion. It covered the front pages of newspapers in England and Pakistan — where cricket took root during the colonial era of the Raj — banishing such competitors for attention as the Lebanon crisis or the airliner bomb plot.

I certainly have to admit that the NYT got that last bit right, even though I could quibble about some of the rest of their piece. But why bother? Let's get closer to the source:

England v Pakistan 4th Test:

FOURTH TEST, THE OVAL (DAY FOUR STUMPS)
England 173 & 298-4 v Pakistan 504
Pakistan forfeit match

Pakistan have forfeited the fourth Test against England after play on day four was sensationally abandoned after a ball-tampering row.

The umpires ruled Pakistan were guilty of doctoring the match ball and awarded England five penalty runs and let them choose a replacement ball.

The day's play finished early when Pakistan stayed in their dressing room after tea in protest.

Although they did briefly return, they later had to forfeit the match.

Fascinating, isn't it? I can't get enough of it, myself. I've been thanking my lucky stars that I was able to find a live-blogged report of the fourth day of the match, Day four: How the controversy unfolded, which says:

1414: WICKET Cook lbw bowled Gul 83
Cook's luck runs out at last as Gul's inswinging yorker traps him plumb in front. He looks absolutely gutted. That's a big blow for England - that partnership was looking tasty. In comes Collingwood.

1420: Pietersen flays Kaneria through cover for four as the leggie finally tires of his leg-stump line. There's a heavy burden on his shoulders now - and you can bet that he fancies it.

1426: Collingwood plunges forward to Kaneria and gets a big inside edge onto his pad - but the ball flies wide of Faisal Iqbal at short square leg. Iqbal turns up the volume on the chat.

1430: Gul's getting a bit of reverse swing here. Collingwood pushes him for two into the off-side.

Did you catch that? A bit of "reverse swing"? What's happening here?

1434: Inzi's not happy about this - the umpires have picked up the ball and are examining it closely.

"Inzy" is Pakistan's captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq.

They call Trevor Jesty on with the box of spare balls, and we could have a diplomatic incident here. They're changing the ball, and that can mean only one thing - the umpires think the Pakistan team have tampered with the ball.

Lordy - Inzamam's furious. To him this is tantamount to being called a cheat. A five-run penalty has been given against Pakistan, and this one's going to run and run.

1439: It's all booting off. Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer has marched straight into the match referee's office, and he didn't look happy. Good luck Mike Procter...

Mike Procter is a former great player for Gloucestershire and South Africa, currently a test referee, and in charge of this match.

Out on the pitch, Pietersen cracks the new 'old' ball off the back foot for four to move on to 73.

1445: Up in the match referee's office, Mike Procter is frantically leafing through what looks like a rule-book. Woolmer has now marched off, and is back on the Pakistan dressing-room balcony, scratching another ball while talking animatedly with bowling coach Waqar Younis.

1452: Pietersen plays a lovely late cut off Kaneria to move to 80, and the drinks come on. Behind the scenes, the tampering row is only just beginning...

1502: Asif has replaced Gul. Read into that what you will. Collingwood, possibly wearing Cook's lucky box, jabs down late on an inswinger and watches in horror as the ball bounces down behind him and misses the stumps by a bail's thickness.

and so on...

So many questions remain unanswered:

  • Who, if anyone, told those suspects that they could mix TATP on a plane? And why?
  • Who were the two suspicious men in Malaga and why were they acting so suspiciously?
  • Or were all the stories about two suspicious men simply fiction?
  • Was Gul in fact caught doctoring the ball?
  • Did the suspects pull a fast one, pretending that they were going to try to mix TATP on a plane when in fact they were planning to do something else?
  • And if so, why would they do this?
  • What would you do if you were on an airplane, or about to board one, and you saw some Middle-Eastern men acting strangely?
  • Would you get on that plane?
  • Was Inzamam-ul-Haq protesting too much because he knew they were caught red-handed?
  • Or was he furious because he felt Pakistan was unfairly penalized?
  • And why was Gul replaced immediately?
  • Was he righteously ticked and too steamed to bowl well, or was he feeling humiliated after his foul deed was exposed?
  • And perhaps most importantly: What will this do to the tour?
  • Pakistan put tour match in doubt:

    Pakistan players may skip Thursday's match against Middlesex at Uxbridge, on the day before skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq's disciplinary hearing.

    But coach Bob Woolmer has moved to quell fears the one-day series against England could be in danger.

    Woolmer stopped short of guaranteeing the series would go ahead if Inzamam is banned for all or part of it.

    "We are all trying to get our heads around what has happened but we are keen to play cricket," he said.

    A sad sign of the times: you can't tell the cricket coaches from the politicians...

    "We need the one-day series to prepare for the World Cup.

    "We need to get rid of this polarisation and we want to bring the two parties [Pakistan and England] together again."

    Speaking of politicians ...

    Are you still wondering about that TATP? So am I.

    I'm still wondering about a few other things too, and you know what that means: We have not yet heard the last word about the people who allegedly plotted To Mix The Impossible Bomb.