Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Canadian firm tips ATF to possible ANFO bomb plot

Boston Globe Online: Print it!:
"The suspect also made several Internet email inquiries to vendors seeking to buy between 500 to 1,000 metric tons of the explosive a quantity larger than McVeigh used to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building in April 1995 but smaller than amounts companies typically might buy in bulk for construction, explosives or farm work."

It's not clear from the story whether that reference to quantities "... smaller than amounts companies typically might buy in bulk for ... farm work" refers to wholesale trade, although that seems to be the implication. Noodling around on several US and Canada ag sites indicates typical application rates for AN in the range of 100 to 500 pounds per acre. That would put the quantities inquired for as suitable for 2,000 to 20,000 acres depending on lots of factors relating to soil conditions, climate, crop, etc. Actually, at the lower end, that could be an order for a single large corn operation in the Midwest.

It's hard to imagine this was a serious attempt by terrorists to acquire explosives. Why use a "Middle Eastern name" and allegedly phony construction company to place inquiries about "fertilzer grade" AN? It seems like somebody trying to set off alarm bells, maybe probing to see how the system responds, or just jerking our chain to get investigators chasing a chimera. If they were serious, there would be a genuine construction company, a plain vanilla name and they would be inquiring about "exposive grade" AN which is what a construction company would buy. In the alternative, you pose as an ag company and ask for "fertilizer grade" AN. Either can be made explosive, the differences being things like particle size, coatings, and consistency. For professional blasting operations, it is critical that the bang is the same from one batch of AN and fuel oil mix as the next. For the farmer, some variability is not as critical whether he is using it to grow more corn or blast tree stumps out of a field.


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