Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Beyond Chlorine: A Nitric Acid Bomb in Iraq

Insurgents in Iraq are getting better at building chlorine-release bombs, reports Global Security Newswire:

Victims in the [early chlorine] attacks were initially injured or killed by explosives rather than the gas. Since January, however, the composition of the [chlorine] bombs — the way they are assembled — has begun to change.

Along with casualties caused by the explosions, gas spread by the bombs sickened and sent scores to the hospital, Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Robert Stephen said. "There’s an increasing sophistication as we see these folks experiment," he said. "This is something that is troubling to us."

Analysts are studying how insurgents have altered their techniques to achieve more effective release of the chlorine, which has come from chemical depots and industrial sites in Iraq, Stephen said.
And now they're starting to try other chemicals.
An attempt to explode a truck carrying nitric acid at a military checkpoint in Iraq failed yesterday when the vehicle overturned before reaching its target, Reuters reported

The tactic mirrors recent bombings in which tanks of chlorine have been loaded on to car bomb.
This is just a couple of days after U.S. troops found a cache of nitric acid - 3000 gallons of it - during a raid in Baghdad:
U.S. forces in Iraq discovered stocks of nitric acid Saturday when they raided a Baghdad home, the Washington Times reported April 16.

Nitric acid can be used to make conventional explosives, but could have chemical weapon applications as well.

"It's an acid and causes chemical burns to the skin and burns the lungs and esophagus if it is inhaled," said Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Wallace of a U.S. Stryker brigade.

Neighbors alerted U.S. troops to the 31 barrels of chemicals ...
The important news here is that al Qaeda in Iraq is learning and adapting. Most if not all of the chlorine bombs in Iraq have been linked to al Qaeda. (I haven't yet found a direct link between the nitric acid and al Qaeda, but it's not an unreasonable supposition.) And they share tactical and operational information very well via the Internet. In a globally connected world, domestic risk increases when insurgents improve their tactical capabilities overseas, as DHS' Robert Stephen points out:
One of [DHS'] goals is educating local U.S. law enforcement about the hallmarks of the improvised bombs to better protect against such a tactic being used domestically.
In addition to law enforcement, I'd add a few others to the list. They certainly have an interest in this:
  • Fire Departments (esp. HAZMAT teams)
  • EMTs
  • Security managers at chemical facilities, water treatment facilities, transportation companies, etc.
  • Public health agencies
Prevention and response require collaborative effort.

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