I was one of the many people who had their flights cancelled as a result of last month’s airline bomb plot, in my case missing a friend’s wedding in Sweden along with many of the other guests.
Of course, that would be a minor inconvenience if there were any substance to the plot. I was sceptical at the time, but decided to wait and see what emerged rather than speculating.
It’s now clear that there are significant doubts over the feasibility of the plot as originally reported:
US and British counterterrorism officials claimed the men, the
majority British Muslims of Pakistani descent, were going to disguise
liquid explosive as bottles of soft drink and carry them in their hand
luggage on to US-bound planes leaving British airports.
the jets were in midair over American cities, they planned to combine
the explosives and detonate them using an electric charge from an iPod,
the security services believe. BA flights were among the targets. US
officials said the bombers had been seeking to hit New York,
Washington, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles. Other airlines
targeted were thought to be United, American and Continental. (Guardian, 11 August)
The Register recently suggested a procedure for this operation that sounds like something out of an episode of Mr Bean:
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. (The Register)
Now we learn of similar doubts from former British Army explosives officer Nigel Wylde:
"So who came up with the idea that a bomb could be made on board?
Not Al Qaeda for sure. It would not work. Bin Laden is interested in
success not deterrence by failure," Wylde stated.
"This story has been blown out of all proportion. The liquids would
need to be carefully distilled at freezing temperatures to extract the
required chemicals, which are very difficult to obtain in the purities
needed." (by Nafeez Ahmed at Craig Murray/The Raw Story)
Wylde incidentally, was an important expert witness for the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin-Monaghan bombs, and subsequently testified on the inquiry’s report to the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament), so he is a serious figure.
He seems to suggest that the British Government is covering up something about the true provenance of the plot. Could this be related to Syed Saleem Shahzad’s theory that the whole thing was a sting operation by Pakistani intelligence?