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June 30, 2007



[the only "explosion" they will get is when gas pressure inside the cylinders is great enough to burst them.]

not even that, as propane cylinders these days have a regulator valve in order to prevent this.


Considering that the locution being used early doors yesterday was a "potentially viable device", I thought that it was pretty obvious that this meant that there were no explosives, and that the devices couldn't actually work as advertised.

It took until Mark Urban on Newsnight noted that amongst the nail, petrol and patio gas there was no actualy-explosive means of detonation in the mix for somebody in the media to point this basic fact out.

The key problem with the jihadi strategy is that in the absence of a ready supply of actual explosives they have to improvise, which is beyond the technical competence of most of the homegrown cells to accomplish successfully.

Judging by the results to date, the bulk of them are still less competent than David Copeland - which is a major blessing.

The flip side for those that do succeed is that they will fail to preserve the technical capacities that they've developed. Until the organisational level goes up a notch or two and they can compartmentalise the bomb-making function into a separate "resource" cell the success rate will be mercifully low.

Obviously the happy-clampers who carted off the second vehicle to the pound deserve their very own carry-on film.

chris y

For a demonstration of what would presumably have happened, see Glasgow: some smoke damage and a lot of traffic disruption.


Note that whoever thought of using gas cylinders was clearly thinking of a fuel-air explosive, even if they hadn't thought out the intermediate steps.

Also, as a telecoms journalist, I usually worked under the rule that if it's in the FT or ZDNet it's probably true, if it's in the nationals or the BBC it's certainly either old or false or both, and if it's in the Register you just don't fucking know. If it's at all controversial, in the Reg, and written by Andrew Orlowski, it's definitely wrong.

Tom Griffin

I can’t help thinking as well that counter-terrorism operations usually involve infiltration at decision making levels and to maintain the credibility of the infiltrator it then becomes necessary to permit certain terrorist actions to take place.

In Northern Ireland, the Army sometimes sabotaged bomb-materials identified by informers, left a transmitter, and allowed the (neutralised) bomb to be planted. Urban has a chapter on the technique, called 'jarking', in Big Boys Rules.


Now that's what I call counter-terrorism, Tom.


Al-Qaeda nothing, by the way.

They drive badly, their equipment doesn't work and they can't co-ordinate their operation properly.

Surely these guys are Spanish?


Thanks, Jamie. I'm on the road this couple of weeks and completely missed that news. Looks like you've properly debunked it.

I'd add one technical note that under some conditions, a propane explosion can be quite forceful, when it includes a phase change from supercritical liquid to gas. But this bunch probably didn't know that.

You could argue that the September 2001 attacks were amateurish, too, although the coordination was something we haven't seen in the recent fiascoes. That was the big difference, along with a great deal of luck.


I suppose this is the problem with "leaderless resistance" - it's just so fucking leaderless. I suspect that right now, the Supreme Command of Al-Qaeda will be wishing they'd never bought that book about worker-run firms and managerialism.

Dan Hardie

'Also, as a telecoms journalist, I usually worked under the rule...'

The past tense already, Alex? 'When I worked as a journalist...?' Now that you're a management consultant, how much do we have to pay you for reading 'The Yorkshire Ranter'? I live in dread of opening the invoice for all those emails, chockfull of advice, that I've had from you. 'Mr Harrowell advises you that if payment is not received within 28 days..'


[Note that whoever thought of using gas cylinders was clearly thinking of a fuel-air explosive]

hmmm, "thinking" might be putting it a bit strongly. Thank the Dukes of Hazzard for the popular assumption that a blevey[1] is the normal and natural outcome of the combination of fire and hydrocarbons, rather than an extraordinary stroke of bad luck.

[1]I found out what a blevey was from "Complicity" by Iain Banks; how about you guys?


The acronym, for me, goes back to the Buncefield explosion (which wasn't one, before y'all write in).

Dan: imagine how good the blog would be if you paid for it...

Dan Hardie

Alex, rather than whinge about lacking money, in your socialist fashion, all you have to do is finish your posts on security policy or ID databases with the words 'and these guys sell really good Viagra'...

Chris Williams

This lot are collectively giving the UVF and Spear of the Nation a run for for their money in the 'crap terrorists' stakes. It looks increasingly like 7/7 was the 'a' team, and we're now subjects of the attention of the 'a-team'.

PS - Wow, I was actually ahead of Alex over 'blevvy'. Dead heat with Dsquared - although I read it in hardback, so might have pipped him.


"blevey" - me too; it was a little later that I found out it was an acronym (BLEVE = Boiling Liquid/Expanding Vapour Explosion) rather than just some sort of slang term.

There was a lot of drivel being talked last week about FAEs, all completely ignoring the fact that an FAE is actually dead tricky to make. I can't think of any terrorist group that has managed to pull one off.


Hey, the UVF managed to operate as an effective mafia - controlling the 'hood, importing and distributing illegal drugs, operating protection rackets, and assassinating tribal enemies.

ajay: some of the Iraqi big bombs might have been. The best EFPs are compressed gas, but I'm not sure if that's strictly speaking an FAE 'cos they use welding gases - oxy-propane or oxy-acetylene - rather than gas and the atmosphere.


"blevey" - me too; it was a little later that I found out it was an acronym (BLEVE = Boiling Liquid/Expanding Vapour Explosion) rather than just some sort of slang term.

Iain Banks? Well, it does sound kindasorta Scottish. "Ah'm goan fuckin drap a bleevy ay paytrol fumes an shrapnel oan yer arse.."


The best EFPs are compressed gas, but I'm not sure if that's strictly speaking an FAE 'cos they use welding gases - oxy-propane or oxy-acetylene - rather than gas and the atmosphere.

Not sure that counts. I would imagine (no expertise here) that the tricky bit with a FAE is dispersal-to-ignition timing. If you fire too early, you get incomplete combustion because the concentration's too high around the device; fire too late and the fuel's dispersed too far and most of it gets wasted.

If you're using welding gases, the issue doesn't apply - I assume they pre-mix them in one big tank?


Most welding kit - in fact all gas welding kit I've ever seen - uses two bottles, one O2 and one fuel, and mixes them at the torch. (Presumably because you really don't want cylinders of explosive gas lying around.)

But the Iraqi version, I think, mixes the two in the cylinder and arranges some sort of ignition.


Yes, all welding kit uses separate cylinders. If it used pre-mixed gases, then, the first time you lit it, the flame front would burn back up the feed pipe into the cylinder and cause an explosion (unless you had a really fast gas flow rate).


...which, in alternative applications, is precisely the result you're after.

Martin Wisse

Yes, Iain Banks was were I first read about a blevey as well; first M-less Banks I read and fecking scary it was too.

Re London bombs: clueless jihadi or sophisticated false flag operation?


The former, Martin, I should think.


"There's no evidence for that - but it is a scientific fact."


It can't be ruled out 100% (or at least I can't rule it out 100% - apparently at Harry's Place they have a magic truth detector which allows them to tell the definite unvarnished facts from lunatic conspiracy theories, which makes a lot of what they wrote in 2003 pretty difficult to understand but there you go). The UK security forces have used agents provocateurs in the past. But they've never planted false flag bombs as far as I know, and I for one hope that if they had a load of Iraqi and Jordanian-born agents, they'd be able to think of something better to do with them than driving a jeep into an airport. I don't even believe that this was a case of "blind eye" either - we've been given loads of specific information about the bombs, which suggests that there's no intelligence to protect.


What would they be trying to get that they have not got already?

Dan Hardie

Oh God, even the spambots have noticed that to post on Jamie's comment threads you have to be called 'Dan'.

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