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Brussels, 20 September 2010

Marketing and use of explosives precursors

The regulation proposed today addresses the problem of the misuse of certain chemicals, which are widely available to the general public on the market, as precursors to home-made explosives. Home-made explosives, in turn, are tools used very frequently by terrorists and other criminals to perpetrate attacks. The main aim of the measures proposed is to reduce this risk by preventing access to selected highly concentrated chemicals by the members of the general public.

Recent terrorist attack and intended attacks with explosives in Europe

Home-made explosives, fabricated from certain easily accessible chemical precursors, are a preferred tool for perpetrators of terrorist attacks, from which the EU, as documented in the Europol TE-SAT reports, is not spared. Examples of recent terrorist attacks and intended attacks using home-made explosives in Europe include:

- February/March 2004 – United Kingdom (London and Kent) – planned:

A cell of extremists with contacts to the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (Army of the Righteous = Kashmiri Islamist terrorist group linked to the al-Qaeda network), were arrested in possession of half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, which they had purchased from an agricultural supplier, and kept in a storage unit in West London. The group were also in possession of aluminium powder to help facilitate an effective explosive, and some had received training in Malakand on the Pakistani-Afghan border.

Ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO) combined create a powerful explosive.

- 7 July 2005 - United Kingdom (London) - achieved:

A cell of three extremists belonging to the al-Qaeda terrorist network and another extremist with links to Kashmiri separatist groups, exploded four hydrogen-peroxide-based improvised explosive devices contained in their rucksacks, three aboard tube trains at Aldgate, Kings Cross, and Edgeware Road and the fourth on a bus in Tavistock Square. The attacks were timed to coincide with the morning rush hour and consequently, 52 people were killed and hundreds injured.

- 21 July 2005 - United Kingdom (London) – planned:

A group of al-Qaeda extremists attempted to launch a copycat of the 7/7 attacks (also hydrogen peroxide based), but while their detonators worked, they failed to initiate the main charges, injuring only themselves. All four were convicted and given lengthy sentences.

- August 2006 - United Kingdom (multiple trans-Atlantic aircrafts) – planned:

A number of Islamist extremists were arrested for involvement in a conspiracy to bring down ten trans-Atlantic airliners with homemade Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). These were to be constructed with peroxide based explosive in liquid-gel format which was to be smuggled on board the targeted jet aircrafts disguised as bottles of soft drink. Associated searches led to the recovery of bomb making chemicals and martyrdom videos.

- September 2006 – Denmark – planned:

Searches following arrests of members of an al-Qaeda cell brought to the recovery of home-made explosive with both ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) and TATP.

Triacetone triperoxide (TATP) is created from crystals collected following the evaporation of concentrated hydrogen peroxide, acetone and sulphuric acid.

- July 2007 - Italy (Fiumicino Airport, Rome and targets in Milan) – planned:

Three extremists linked to al-Qaeda were arrested in Perugia, involved in a ‘training school’ leading to the recovery of precursors and equipment associated with the construction of Improvised Explosive Devices using triacetone triperoxide (TATP). Reconnaissance material suggested possible targets included Rome airport and locations in Milan.

- 4 September 2007 – Denmark – planned:

Following the arrest of a cell of eight Islamist extremists, a quantity of precursors suitable for the fabrication of TATP were recovered (hydrogen peroxide & acetone). One of those arrested had previously received training on the Pakistan-Afghan border.

- 4 September 2007 - Germany (Frankfurt Airport, Ramstein Airbase, and US military venues)– planned:

Three extremists, allegedly linked to the Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union, an affiliate group of al-Qaeda, were arrested in Oberschledorn. They were found in possession of around 750kg of hydrogen peroxide, a key precursor for TATP construction. They were given long-year prison sentences at the end of a trial in which they admitted to belonging to a terrorist organisation, plotting murder and preparing explosive devices.

- May 2008 - United Kingdom (restaurant in a shopping centre, Exeter) – attempted:

While preparing the devices, the individual concerned detonated one of them, only succeeding in injuring himself before being arrested. The explosive device was composed of caustic soda, drain cleaner and kerosene, with nails added to enhance fragmentation/ lethality

Main household and other downstream use of precursors

Currently, the general public has relatively easy access to these chemicals. They are used in a wide range of products such as fertiliser mixtures, products for food preservation, for cleaning and disinfection or as components of rodenticides, fungicides, pesticides or herbicides.

For example, hydrogen peroxide is a component of products for hair bleaching, dyeing or fixing of hair perm, tooth bleaching, toilet cleaners and dishwashing detergents, additive for washing, disinfection of wounds, the mouth and contact lenses as well as for hydroponics gardening, but it can also be used to make improvised explosive devices.

Acetone, used as domestic solvent (superglue remover, nail polish remover, household cleaner) and degreaser, combined with other chemicals and properly treated, can also be transformed into an explosive.

Other examples of explosive precursors include:

  • Hexamine (used in shampoo / hair products or fuel tablets)

  • Nitric acid (cleaning)

  • Hydrochloric acid (swimming pool and fish tank pH adjuster)

  • Sulphuric acid (can be found in car and other lead acid batteries; rust remover)

In most of these products or for most household purposes, the chemical is or can be used in low concentrations. This will not change with the proposed Regulation. In some cases, however, they are currently accessible in concentrations sufficient to produce a powerful explosive device. The Regulation addresses this by controlling access to these high concentration chemicals. .

For more information

Homepage of Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs:


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