New York Times
July 12, 2005
By DON VAN NATTA Jr. and ELAINE SCIOLINO
LONDON, July 11 – British investigators believe that the 10-pound bombs used in the coordinated terrorist attacks here contained "military quality" high-grade explosives, British and European counterterrorism officials said Monday.
Investigators said they still did not know whether the explosives contained plastic materials, or were made some other way. But they said the material used in the bombs was similar to the kind manufactured for military use or made for highly technical commercial purposes, such as dynamite used for precision explosions to demolish buildings or in mining.
Because of the small size of the bombs, some investigators initially said last week that they were relatively crude.
On Monday, a senior European-based counterterrorism official with access to intelligence reports said the new information on the material indicated that the bombs were "technically advanced." The official added: "There seems to be a mastery of the method of doing explosions. This was not rudimentary. It required great organization and was well put together."
Counterterrorism and law enforcement officials interviewed for this article said they would only speak on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the investigation. They said it was still unclear whether the attacks were carried out by local terrorists, a group from outside Britain or a combination of the two.
The quality of the explosives has led many investigators to theorize that the bombs were assembled by at least one technically savvy bomb maker, who might have come to Britain to build the devices for use by a local "sleeper cell," officials said.
"People assume you can look up a bomb-making design on the Internet and put one together without any training," said one senior counter terrorism official based in Europe. "But it’s not that simple or easy."
Investigators say determining the physical origin of the explosives is crucial to helping them determine the origin of the bombs that tore apart three trains in the London Underground and the No. 30 bus in central London during the morning rush hour last Thursday. It was the worst terrorist attack in Britain since World War II.
British intelligence officials have asked their counterparts elsewhere in Europe to scour military stockpiles and commercial sites for missing explosives, three senior European-based intelligence officials said.
Senior counterterrorism officials are concerned that the cell that exploded the bombs might have a stockpile of more explosive material and could strike again, in Britain or in another European country.
"I really pity my British colleagues," a senior European intelligence official said. "It’s a very difficult situation. Every hour that passes diminishes the probability to catch those people and increases the chances that this cell might try to strike again."
Britain’s terrorism alert was raised immediately after the attacks to "severe specific," the second-highest level overall, and the highest that it has been since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. It has remained at that level since then, reflecting the continuing anxiety of the police and intelligence officials here that another attack may occur in London.
In the attack on commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, the industrial dynamite used for the bombs had been stolen from a quarry in northern Spain.
A month after the attack, investigators found the terrorist cell that was responsible. But the men blew themselves up in an apartment before the police moved in. Spanish officials said the members of the cell had obtained 230 kilograms (506 pounds) of Goma 2 Eco dynamite, and had intended to build more bombs for additional attacks.
A senior Spanish official said Monday that roughly 130 kilograms (286 pounds) were used in the Madrid attacks, with about 30 in unexploded bombs. The remainder is believed to have exploded when the terrorists blew themselves up. The terrorists had obtained the dynamite from a man named Jos