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Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs

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With the phrase, "they go to school on us," in frequent usage in the 9/11 Commission hearings, why does it come as a surprise to some that al Qaeda would attempt to deploy "near-nuclear effect" FAE (fuel air explosives) and thermobaric weapons. One of my drumbeats is that all technology "has a glide slope to the desktop," i.e., it is only a matter of time before any technology, be it laser printing or thermobarics, is small enough and cheap enough to be widely manufactured and distributed. Yet, it still comes as a surprise to so many, which is, to me, a sure sign of underestimation and our failure to "go to school" on them.

The US used thermobaric devices in March 2002 against al Qaeda caves near Gardez, Afghanistan. The weapons are "conventional" in their materials and so do not have telltale signatures but have near-nuclear effects -- a near perfect terror weapon -- and in the case of FAEs they can be assembled in country (I had manuals for them dating from the 80s from open sources) and they do not have the design challenges -- yet -- of thermobarics. The only surprise is why it would take so long.  See Defense officials defend using new bomb.

While jurists and purists dance on the head of a pin discussing whether a two-stage device (FAE) or single stage (thermobaric) classify as a WMD, i.e., two stages do but one stage does not, it makes no difference to the victim or the terrorist. (But you will be relieved to know that our thermobarics are consistent with the laws of armed conflict and our treaty obligations.) Terrorists will take the path of least resistance and start with homemade FAEs and purchased thermobarics.

If you design your first stage burst and mix properly, any fuel tanker truck becomes an FAE -- and it has the benefit of having a built-in transport means. (It is possible that the Tunisian synagogue blast was a developmental step in that direction.) Should the terrorist be unwilling to build, they can buy on the black market (Soviet devices have been found with rebels in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

FAEs and thermobarics greatly redraft the tactical landscape as truck-barriers would have to have far greater perimeters and defensive strategies become far more complex as these weapons "go around walls." The blast effects are extraordinary, sustained, effective at a greater distance, and consume any breathable oxygen in the confined space and replace it with combustion gases. Lethality is assured.

As I noted in Nov 2001, "If you want to know anything substantive about Soviet tactical military operations, and especially areas of operations in Chechnya and Afghanistan, Lester Grau and Ali Jalali are your guys. As we consider digging anyone out of the underground sanctuaries of Afghanistan, be it natural limestone caves, irrigation tunnels, or purpose-made bunkers, it seemed wise to have a primer on the geography and the tools." Grau and Jalali’s "Underground Combat: Stereophonic Blasting, Tunnel Rats, and the Soviet-Afghan War" is still topical in employment. Just add significantly greater blast effects.

Put a thermobaric in a subway, especially an older, single tube system as the London Underground, and the effects would be profound. FYI, if you are doing research on thermobarics, there is a lot of incorrect reporting in 2001-2002 that they are two stage devices.

Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs
New Scientist
09:45 21 March 04
David Hambling

Some experts fear that terrorists are trying to develop thermobaric and fuel-air bombs which can be even more devastating than conventional devices...

The devices use a small charge to generate a cloud of explosive mixed with air. The main explosion is then detonated by a second charge (a fuel-air explosion), or by the explosive reacting spontaneously with air (a thermobaric explosion). The resulting shock wave is not as strong as a conventional blast, but it can do more damage as it is more sustained and, crucially, diminishes far more gradually with distance.

Gordon Housworth



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