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Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP)

A new terrorist explosive, triacetone triperoxide (TATP), has recently appeared as a weapon in the Middle East. TATP has been used by suicide bombers in Israel, and was chosen as a detonator in 2001 by the thwarted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. It can be as or more powerful than military analogs. TATP is one of the most sensitive explosives known, being extremely sensitive to impact, temperature change and friction. Another peroxide-type explosive is hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), which is less sensitive than TATP but still dangerous. HMTD is somewhat more sensitive to impact than TCPT, but both are very sensitive explosives.

The explosion of TATP is not a thermochemically highly favored event. In conventional high explosives such as TNT, each molecule contains both a fuel component and an oxidising component. When the explosive detonates, the fuel part is oxidised and as this combustion reaction spreads it releases large amounts of heat. The explosion of TATP involves entropy burst, which is the result of formation of one ozone and three acetone molecules from every molecule of TATP in the solid state. Just a few hundred grams of the material produce hundreds of litres of gas in a fraction of a second.

The explosion of TATP is similar to the decomposition of azide, for example, which produces nitrogen gas but little heat, is used to fill airbags for cars. TATP is the most extreme example currently known, but it may be possible to design molecules that behave as an even more powerful explosive.

TATP can be easily prepared in a basement lab using commercially available starting materials obtained from, e.g., hardware stores, pharmacies, and stores selling cosmetics. TATP is a fairly easy explosive to make, as far as explosives manufacturing goes. All it takes is acetone, hydrogen peroxide (3% medicinal peroxide is not concentrated enough), and a strong acid like hydrochloric or sulfuric acid. I don't recommended mixing up a batch for Independence Day celebrations because it's easy to blow yourself up when you make it.

On Dec. 22, 2001, American Airlines Flight 63, carrying a crew of 14 and a passenger complement of 184, including "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, departed Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France, bound for Miami, Florida. Approximately one and a half hours into the flight, a flight attendant smelled what she thought was a burnt match. After the flight attendant determined that it was coming from where Reid was seated, she confronted Reid, at which time he put a match into his mouth. The flight attendant alerted the captain over the intercom system. Reid went on to light another match in an apparent attempt to set fire to his shoe. The flight attendant then noticed a wire protruding from the shoe. A struggle ensued among several of the flight attendants, passengers and Reid. Ultimately Reid was subdued and restrained for the remainder of the flight. The flight was diverted for landing to Boston's Logan International Airport, where Reid was taken into federal custody. Later analysis by the FBI laboratory in Washington determined that there were two functional improvised explosive devices hidden in Reid's shoes made of the explosive material triacetone triperoxide, known as "TATP," and other components. Richard Reid's shoe had 8 or 10 ounces of triacetone triperoxide and PETN.

Because of the wide range of energetic materials and the many differences in their physical properties, several detection devices detect only certain types of explosives and fail to detect others. For example, many detection devices readily detect conventional explosives made of organic nitro and nitrate compounds, but fail to detect explosives made of inorganic nitrates or non-nitrogeneous compounds. In particular, many nitrogen-based detection devices fail to detect explosives such as ANFO (ammonium nitrate in fuel oil), Black Powder ("gun powder" formed from potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal), and triacetone triperoxide (TATP). As a result, such explosives are sometimes referred to as "transparent."



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