PHOTO: According to Sen. Schumer, TATP bombs—ISIS’ “go-to explosive”—are made using hydrogen peroxide and other household chemicals. Courtesy of Google+/Leann Lenzy
By Michael V. Cusenza
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) last weekend called on the Department of Homeland Security to fast-track testing of a detector technology that can identify triacetone triperoxide – TATP – which he called the terrorist group ISIS’ “go-to” explosive.
TATP, Schumer said, is a white, crystalline explosive powder that has been used by ISIS in recent terror attacks. TATP bombs are made using hydrogen peroxide, acetone and other household chemicals. According to published reports, TATP was used by the terrorists involved in November’s attack in Paris, which claimed the lives on 130 people. American bomb-disposal technicians noted that TATP was sealed into bundles and taped into suicide vests.
And Belgian authorities confiscated more than 30 pounds of the explosive in the home of one of the suspected Brussel attackers. TATP was also used in the 2005 London bombings, which took the lives of 52 commuters, as well as by Richard Reid, who attempted to detonate an explosive in his shoe onboard a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001.
In hopes of preventing future terrorist attacks involving TATP, a Rhode Island professor has developed a sensor that can detect vapors – like those in TATP – released from explosives, Schumer said. DHS helps fund Prof. Otto Gregory’s work at the Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats Center, led by Northeastern University with the support of three strategic partner schools: the University of Rhode Island; Boston University, and Purdue University. According to Schumer, the ALERT center was created for explosive experts to collaborate and improve the nation’s response to threats. Unlike hand swabs and bomb-sniffing dogs, Gregory’s sensor is designed to continuously monitor an area to reveal explosive particles in the air. According to reports, Schumer added, the sensor can detect amounts of TATP as small as 1 part per billion. Gregory said that hopes that the sensor can be made small enough to be installed on a turnstile or worn by an officer.
DHS has funded URI research that has helped develop the detector technology. URI now has field tests scheduled and is currently seeking more testing opportunities to show the feasibility of the detection sensors in varying settings. Field testing is scheduled at a Federal Aviation Administration facility this year and on cargo containers at the port in Savannah, Ga. Schumer said that the detectors could save countless lives and prevent attacks at airports, transit hubs and other public spaces. He is urging DHS to fast-track testing in the hopes of installing the technology in New York City as soon as possible.
“The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate is actively pursuing countermeasures against explosive compounds, including triacetone triperoxide,” a DHS S&T spokesperson told The Forum. “The electronic trace detection system at the University of Rhode Island is one method S&T is exploring, and we are looking forward to testing it when appropriate as it progresses further in the development stage.
“While that research is ongoing, S&T’s Explosives Detection Canine Program and the Surface Transportation Explosives Threat Detection Program provide capabilities to detect and mitigate the explosive threat, to include specific canine training aids for peroxide based homemade explosives like TATP. Additionally, a millimeter wave imaging system is also under development to provide a capability of detecting explosives on persons and in baggage without disrupting the passenger flow of mass transit systems.
“We continue to conduct multiple research efforts, in-house and through partnerships, to develop new technologies that counter evolving threats to our homeland security.”