US-bound mail laced with PETN, a common, powerful explosive

30th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

PETN, the substance Dubai police said they found in a US-bound air parcel, is a potent explosive that can be set off either with a detonator or extreme heat.

The same explosive material was reportedly found in a second package that was intercepted at Britain's East Midlands airport. Both parcels originated from Yemen where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is based.

The discovery of the two suspect packages on Friday sparked an international security alert and what US President Barack Obama called a "credible terrorist threat."

Traces of pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN, were discovered hidden in an ink toner of a computer printer along with a mobile phone detonator in the package in found in Dubai, police there said.

While the chemical is also used to treat heart conditions, PETN is best known as a military grade explosive.

It was part of the device set off in a failed bid on Christmas Day last year to bomb a US airliner flying to Detroit by Nigerian Farouk Abdulmutallab, who hid the contraption in his underwear.

PETN was also the explosive used in an unsuccessful 2001 attempt by Briton Richard Reid to set off a bomb hidden in his shoe while flying from Paris to Miami.

It is a major ingredient of the plastic explosive Semtex and TNT and is used in a wide range of military weapons.

Detonators for Semtex, a widely used explosive of 1960s Czechoslovakian origin, consist of a smaller PETN explosion set off by an electric current.

Just a few hundred grams of Semtex were enough to bring down the PanAm Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people. The material was also used in the majority of bomb attacks by the IRA militant group in Britain.

© 2010 AFP

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