Large Amount of Plastic Explosives Missing in New Mexico

Authorities are asking for the public's help after 150 pounds of commercial plastic explosives turned up missing from a private storage site, along with 2,500 blasting caps and 20,000 feet of explosive detonation cord.

"In the hands of the wrong person, this material can be very, very destructive," Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White said Monday during a news conference.

Wayne Dixie, resident agent in charge of the Albuquerque office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the missing material could level a building "if it was in the hands of the right people and they knew how to use it."

ATF spokesman Tom Mangan said the theft occurred between Dec. 13 and Sunday, when the missing materials were noticed at 4 p.m. Two commercial-style containers, each stored inside two bunkers southwest of Albuquerque, were burglarized.

Dixie cautioned there was no evidence to suggest a link to terrorism but said investigators had no leads or suspects. Authorities offered a reward of up to $50,000 for information that helps them recover the goods.

The materials were reported missing by the owner of Cherry Engineering Inc. Dixie said the company performs "research for the law enforcement community" but declined to elaborate.

"Our cause for concern is that these materials are highly energetic, military-style explosives that are not commonly used in commercial industry," Mangan said.

Cherry Engineering was federally certified as an explosives storage facility and was in compliance with ATF regulations, Dixie said. The site was inspected weekly.

Company officials were cooperating with investigators. Mangan said the owner has had no violations since acquiring a license to store explosives in 1990.

The missing amount is roughly big enough to fit into a truck, van or sport utility vehicle, police spokesman John Walsh said. The explosives were stored in large rolls.

"It looks like plumber's putty rolled up in wax paper," Walsh said.

The site was processed as a crime scene by ATF and police, and evidence was taken to a police crime lab for analysis.

The FBI and New Mexico State Police also were participating in the investigation.

"I think it's clear from all the agencies that are represented here that this is something we're very concerned about," White said.