Explosives point to terrorists

policeNew techniques for tracking bomb-making materials, and possibly pointing the way towards the terrorists themselves, are being researched at Flinders University. The ground-breaking research will be discussed at a workshop at Flinders today (9.30am-3.30pm, Wednesday 26 May) involving university, defence and government officials.

The National Security Research Information University Workshop, organised by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and hosted by Flinders, will also hear from University researchers developing Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that could improve the success rates of operations such as those currently underway to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Organic peroxides are increasingly being used as the explosive of choice by terrorists because they can be easily prepared and do not require ‘off the shelf purchases’ which run the risk of detection.

However, researchers at Flinders have found that tell-tale evidence can be tracked through material which has survived the explosion and can point to the source material which could be a substance like hydrogen peroxide that is used, amongst other purposes, by hairdressers as bleach.

Associate Professor Stewart Walker, Associate Professor in Forensic and Analytical Chemistry at Flinders University, said bombs based on organic peroxides – which were used in the London transit system bombings in 2005 and the foiled plot to destroy trans-Atlantic airliners in 2006 – could contain impurities in the “starter material” that can be used to identify the source of the explosive.

“These impurities may serve as markers for the identification of the starting materials and batches of explosives for evidence or intelligence purposes, in a similar manner to that established for illicit drug analysis,” Associate Professor Walker said.

“Identifying the starter material gives you an opportunity to find a chemical fingerprint which could then lead you to a source of that material or establish a pattern of use which could also help identify the user,” he said.

“The research being undertaken at Flinders has the potential to make a contribution towards fighting the war on terror.”

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