Published May 17, 2008
Tang, peroxide and a disposable camera — items you may very well have in your home — can be a deadly mix.
Far-fetched as it sounds, bombs made from hydrogen peroxide and the breakfast powder drink Tang could have taken down seven planes bound for the U.S. and Canada — using flash cameras to trigger the explosions.
A British court saw video evidence this week of the "liquid explosives plot," an alleged terrorist cabal British police say they thwarted in August 2006. The suspects allegedly had planned to use common household chemicals to mix bombs while aboard jets flying over the Atlantic.
The alleged plot, and the excellent police work that went into busting it, resulted in the tough carry-on restrictions passengers face before boarding an airplane. Knowing the dangers of liquid explosives should make the hassle of tossing your bottles when traveling a lot easier to bear.
Peter Wright, a lawyer prosecuting the case in London against eight of the 18 accused suspects, called the bombs "a deadly cargo." It's a simple one, too.
Prosecutors say the alleged terrorists intended to carry the components on board each plane to form a bomb.
One was a mix of hydrogen peroxide and Tang. The citric acid in the Tang acts as a catalyst, making the mixture deadly.
The other component is a mixture known as HMTD — hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, a chemical cocktail made from readily available household and commercial ingredients. HMTD is extremely unstable and can be set off by heat, movement and even contact with metal.
Prosecutors say the suspects had planned to hide the Tang-and-bleach mixture in plastic soda bottles and the HMTD in hollowed-out AA batteries. The initial charge would have been set off in the HMTD, causing a larger explosion.
According to Erroll Southers, the chief of intelligence and counterterrorism at Los Angeles International Airport, peroxide-based bombs are on the rise all over the world.
"Peroxide-based explosives are the weapon of choice in the Middle East," he said. "They leave no residue, they’re extremely volatile, they’re easy to make and they’ve been quite effective."
Just one bottle-sized bomb could be powerful enough to rip a hole in a plane’s hull — certain tragedy for the passengers aboard the seven targeted flights.
Prosecutors say the attack was planned for between August and December, two of the busiest months of the year for air travel. Had the planes been full, nearly 2,000 people would have been killed.
Jurors in the trial were shown video of what those explosions would have looked like. Scientists at the Forensic Explosives Laboratory in London re-created the device, but as a precaution they left the testing area and had a robotic arm mix the deadly chemicals.
It was a smart move: The tiny bomb destroyed one of the video cameras and sprayed the lab with pieces of the protective walls meant to contain the blast.
Next time you're feeling inconvenienced because you can't take a bottle of shampoo or soda pop through security, think again. Those restrictions at the gate are there to ensure that you'll reach your destination safe and sound.