Mutallab performed the necessary steps to destroy the plane

A long article at The Independent has much new information about Abdul Mutallab and the attempted attack. The below section from the article shows that he carried out the action—injecting a detonating liquid from a syringe into the PETN high explosive that was strapped to his leg—necessary to set off an explosion, but the explosion failed to go off. So, notwithstanding the points made the experts quoted below that Mutallab was untrained or unprepared and didn’t carry out his assigned steps in the optimal way, the fact is that he did the equivalent of pulling the trigger on a loaded gun, but the gun didn’t fire. Maybe his finger could have been steadier on the trigger, but even a man with a shaky finger can fire a gun. It was pure luck that the gun didn’t fire.

… Mr Schuringa also said that when he first grabbed the suspect he saw a burning liquid dripping on to the floor.

The high explosive Abdulmutallab used was identified by the FBI as Pentaerythritol, better known as PETN—a major component of Semtex. He injected a detonating liquid into the PETN with a syringe, but the bomb failed to explode.

The revelation of Abdulmutallab’s background has confounded terror experts. Dr Magnus Ranstorp of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College said that the attempted bombing “didn’t square”.

“On the one hand, it seems he’s been on the terror watch list but not on the no-fly list,” he said. “That doesn’t square because the American Department for Homeland Security has pretty stringent data-mining capability. I don’t understand how he had a valid visa if he was known on the terror watch list.

“Why didn’t he go to the toilets to detonate the bomb? Why would he try to set it off 20 minutes before he’s going to land? It could probably have been successful had the person not been amateurish. I think this is a sign that it’s much more difficult now for al-Qa’ida to pull off something serious.”

Chaim Koppel, a security consultant, added: “I think the explosive was supposed to go bang rather than just start a fire. The terrorists probably didn’t mix it well enough. Maybe they didn’t do enough practice runs, but the more the guy is trained, the more exposed he is to MI5, MI6, the FBI and other security agencies, so he probably didn’t receive enough training.”

Again, notwithstanding the experts’ view that Mutallab was amateurish, it was irrelevant whether he had professionally attempted to set off the explosion in the toilet or amateurishly attempted to set it off at his seat. If the liquid detonator had worked, the PETN explosive in the container strapped to his leg would have exploded, the plane would have gone down, and everyone aboard would have been killed.

Here is more from the same article, I’ve bolded two key paragraphs:

Expert’s view: The latest in a line of near disasters

The failed attempt to blow up flight 253 as it came in to land at Detroit airport is the latest in an ominous pattern of terror attacks that have emerged from, or have been attempted in, the United Kingdom over the past few years.

Dr Sally Leivesley, a leading terror expert who advises governments and businesses, said yesterday there have been several incidents where detonators have failed to ignite devices, with a major terror attack averted through luck or human error.

They include Richard Reid, who was overpowered on a transatlantic flight as he attempted to detonate a bomb hidden in his shoe; the failed attacks on London transport of July 2005 which came two weeks after the 7/7 bombings; the attempted attack on Glasgow airport in August 2007; the discovery of two cars packed with gas and petrol in London the day before the Glasgow attack; and an incident in Exeter in 2008 when a man failed to detonate a device in a cafĂ©’s toilets.

“The devices may not be competent,” Dr Leivesley said. “Scientists will now try to replicate the method in the laboratory and then we’ll know. The reason it didn’t go off may be a fault with the device, or human error. The reports so far suggest that the bomber sat quietly after the incident, but had suffered third-degree burns on his leg. That suggests to me that he may have been sedated in order not to appear anxious, but that may have impaired his ability.”

The other disturbing development, she added, is the use of the body to conceal explosives. In August a terrorist tried to assassinate the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with explosives implanted in his body.

“The bomber suffered third-degree burns on his leg,” Dr Leivesley said. “It’s possible that a part of the explosive was hidden either inside the inner thigh or wrapped over that area with skins. With baggy clothing, it could be missed during a search, as could a syringe hidden in the groin. There are no metal components involved, so it wouldn’t trigger a security device. He would then use the syringe to inject a liquid which would detonate the explosive.”

Another significant factor is the report that the bomber was an engineering student at University College London. Dr Leivesley said that al-Qa’ida was recruiting people with engineering qualifications as well as highly placed scientists, particularly in the nuclear field.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 27, 2009 02:05 AM | Send

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