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What kinds of weapons do terrorists like to use?

Terrorist Bombs

Erroll Southers (Former Deputy Director of the California Department of Homeland Security) gives expert video advice on: What kinds of weapons do terrorists like to use?; How are terrorist bombs typically used?; How likely am I to be a victim of a terrorist bomb? and more...

What kinds of weapons do terrorists like to use?

Bombs work. Bombs are the most effective terrorist tool that there is. That is the reason that we focus so much on IEDs or improvised explosive devices. With all due respect to all the other things that we talk about, bioterror, agroterror, the most important thing to remember is that bombs are what people are using around the world. Improvised explosive devises run the gamut. We've seen them evolve over time. I think the more effective ones are peroxide based. You've probably heard of TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, HMTD, they're all peroxide based and what makes them so effective is they are easy to make, ingredients you can buy out of a local store, recipes, we have recipes that are on the internet. The bad part about that is we've seen a fair amount of people blow themselves up. Ehud Keinan is the world's leading expert in TATP, he's at Technion in Haifa, Israel, is a colleague of mine. He estimates about 40% of the people there, in Nablos, which they believe is the heart of TATP, have probably blown themselves up trying to make bombs. They're very useful, you can kill a lot of people, they're easy to transport, they're easy to make, and they're very effective.

How are terrorist bombs typically used?

One of the hallmarks of the groups that we are most interested in - Al-Qaeda type groups - is simultaneity. They usually don't blow-up one location at a time they usually blow-up several locations at a time. So if you can get it there and transport it and detonate it you're in great shape. The sad part is we don't have to be suicide bombers we've seen cell phone technology in increasing use in blowing up bombs. Setting timers, blowing up bombs remotely by calling that phone; so there's a number of ways to do it, it's very effective and very cheap.

How likely am I to be a victim of a terrorist bomb?

I always like to look at some of the things I see on websites about the likelihood is less than being struck by lightning or winning the lottery and with all due respect, that's true. Especially in this country, I hope it stays that way. However if you're the victim of a bomb, than of course those statistics change. We have had a number of thwarted attempts in this country and that's because we have gotten better at intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing but the bomb remains the number one, most important threat we face. Weather it be vehicle-born, meaning transported by some kind of vehicle, or a time device thats placed in some location. Terrorists by and large throughout the world prefer to use bombs.

What should I do in the case of a terrorist bombing?

Well just remember. And I like to make people understand, that we've been through a lot of things as a nation, and as Americans. The results of a bombing are going to be the same as the results of some acts of nature. One bomb goes off, unfortunately people may die. They may get hurt. We may have fires. We may have more explosions. We may have structural collapse. There could be flooding because of pipes that have been ruptured. There's a lot of things. Most importantly we see that people need to get out of an area. The Israelis are great at this. Everybody there is a first responder. That's what we need to do here. Quite often when a bomb goes off in Israel and it's on a bus. Everybody there is going to be helping someone else get away from that area, get first aid, render CPR, try to stabilize victims and wait for the other 'real' first responders, if you will, to get there. So the thing you want to do, is try to get away from that immediate area because of secondary devices. We've seen it here in a number of instances. Eric Rudolph who was taken into custody a few years ago, who you may remember from the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombings, and several other abortion clinics. His trade was secondary bombs. And his trade was also placing bombs in assembly areas that he... where a bomb threat was phoned in. He put the bomb where people would evacuate the building and then stand. So you want to get away from that area and then you want to render first aid as you would to any other natural disaster that may have happened.

How likely are terrorists to use liquid materials to create a bomb?

It can really work; how likely is it? A chemist who know how to do it, they can be successful. The challenge you have there is getting all the ingredients in one spot, putting them together; and the risk, if you will, is of not blowing yourself up. So if you're successful enough to get everything in one spot and put it all together, you can do it. How likely is it? I'm going to say that it wouldn't be my method of choice, given that there are other ways to put together IED's (or improvised explosive devices) that are a lot safer to me, the attacker, than the liquid threat. But the liquid threat is going to take more than one chemical, and in most cases, more than one person to put that together, with the security apparatuses we have in place.

What can the government do to prevent terrorist attacks?

There are two main apparatus in effect to stop a bomb attack. The first is intelligence, where we gather enough to identify potential, would-be attackers. The second is when we are able to detect, deter attackers from planning or executing that threat, or that attack. Terrorist attacks are only successful to the point that they can survey a target, perform reconnaissance on it, and rehearse. That means going to the target repeatedly. What we've done now, in terms of the government, is stood up apparatus in the way of closed circuit television, training, a lot of software technology out there that recognizes license plates and things like that, that we can see repeat people at a location that don't belong there. You may recall the bombing on the Khobar Towers. We believe that those three attackers visited Khobar forty times. Ten of those times in the same car. So, had we had apparatus in place that would have recognized these three guys, and that car ten times, we may have had enough to say "We should take a look at them, and an investigation should be conducted and maybe they're somebody we want to stop." So intelligence on the one hand, and then hardware/software on the other hand to detect those surveillance activities, and that's the most successful way, most effective way, to stop a bombing from happening.