Following three blasts in Brussels earlier this week that killed more than 30 people, Belgian authorities announced they had discovered ingredients for a deadly explosive known as the “mother of Satan” in a jihadist hideout.
Belgian prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said Wednesday police had discovered 150 litres of acetone, 30 litres of oxygenated water, detonators, and a suitcase filled with nails and screws during a raid.
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The ingredients listed are components of triacetone triperoxide, or TATP. A total of 15 kilograms were found in the apartment.
The easy-to-make explosive has become a favourite weapon of the so-called Islamic State and has been used in prior terrorist attacks including the Paris bloodshed that left 130 people dead.
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As military and commercial explosives have become harder to acquire, terrorists have moved towards more accessible ingredients in their bomb making, said Jimmie Oxley, a chemistry professor at the University of Rhode Island.
“If it’s a matter of what you can make then you need to get the ingredients,” Oxley told Global News. “In Europe, acquiring the acetone and the peroxide became easier than some of the others and less chemistry than some of the other explosives.”
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A report from the NGO Conflict Armament Research published last month found 51 companies had supplied ISIS with the components needed to make improvised explosive devices at semi-industrial levels. The companies were located across 20 countries, and included Turkey, Russia, Belgium and the United States.
TATP has been used in terrorist attacks for over a decade and was used in the London bombings on 7 July 2005, where four suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured more than 700.
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Oxley said the chemical was also used by the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid who attempted to detonate explosives packed into the shoes he was wearing, while on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami.
“They use it because they can acquire it, they know how to make it, and it’s relatively easy to initiate,” said Oxley, adding that TATP is easier to detonate than other explosives like Trinitrotoluene, known as TNT.
The U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center lists TATP as a common explosive and describes it as “relatively easy to synthesize.” The website says it “can be very unstable and sensitive to heat, shock, and friction.”
TATP was used in the suicide vests of the attackers in Paris on Nov.13, and investigators believe it was also used by the bombers in Tuesday’s attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station that left 31 dead.