Home > Attacks and Plots, Commentary, Use of information communications technology > A note on the failed VBIED in Times Square

A note on the failed VBIED in Times Square

I’m watching the news about the failed VBIED in NYC and I was hoping to write something a little more considered than this. However my thesis frazzled brain is just not cooperating at 1:30am on a Monday morning after an all weekend re-writing and editing bender. So I will limit  my comments, which I hope are slightly coherent.

No speculation from me on possible perpetrator.  Field is wide open there.

But what strikes me about it all is the problem that repeatedly faces terrorists…actually getting something to go boom.

My first take is whoever did this didn’t have a whole lot of training, if any. And could have solely gone off manuals they’ve found on the net.

There are ample training materials out there from all manner of terrorist groups and crazies. And plenty of things that outline how to build a device just like this.

That said they knew enough to try to take identifying markers off the vehicle. However, this too can be found in a number of online guides.

Anyway, my point is that it is far more difficult to get something to go boom (for the average untrained person) than what people think.  This is why, for example, training for construction of explosives and explosives devices in terrorist training camps has historically taken up to two years,  as opposed to the usual basic training where people are trained how to *use* explosives instead of how to build devices. It is an ongoing problem for militant groups. This is why some of them (and here I’m thinking AQ) often sent the detonator or a key part of it back with those it was deploying to carry out attacks. Especially for the more sophisticated attacks.  Or they gave intensive one on one or small group training. Not that this is the case here, but I point it out to reinforce the point that when groups or individuals don’t have training in construction of devices there is less likelihood their devices will detonate properly.

A lot of the manuals out there are quite detailed, but as I said it’s harder than what people think.

And if you think there’s not stuff out there that people can learn from, well this picture  is just a teeny part of some of the stuff out there. I’ve covered up the info for obvious reasons. As an aside the gent who made this picture trained with Ramzi Yousef, but that’s another story.

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  1. Douglas
    05/03/2010 at 6:08 am

    Interesting that the picture you printed has almost the exact contents as the SUV at Times Square – the gasoline in red containers, the propane and… well, probably not fireworks taped to the outside. Still, close.

    • Leah Farrall, Australia
      05/03/2010 at 10:37 am

      Yes, I know. There is loads of stuff out there on how to do just this. I chose this picture only because I could get a clear go to remove the information.

  2. 05/03/2010 at 8:19 am

    Thanks for sharing your expertise! Linked to this post in my last one on my main blog about the purported Qari Hussain Mehsud audio message.

  3. Saso
    05/03/2010 at 10:43 pm

    I wonder if they’re really having to make things go boom to get their expected outcome. After all, half the city went in the tailspin and was in lockdown for 7 hours. I subscribe to John Robb’s line of thinking – that’s a pretty good ROI.

    Cost to terrorists: stolen car, a few cheap gas tanks, a few cheap electronics.
    Cost to response: police, bomb squad, anti-terrorist squad, … days and days of pouring through CCTV footage, … inconvenience and lifestyle change to a number of people.

    If the goal of terrorists is to terrorise and change habits of others then they succeeded without having to make anything go boom. All they need to do is make sure that every now and then one of those actually does go boom and fear mentality will remain.

  4. Karaka
    05/04/2010 at 7:59 am

    @Saso, that’s a good point, though I wonder if it’s even more simplistic than generating expense and inconvenience–more, “We can affect you. See how we can affect you, in the heart of your cities?” Basic fear tactic that doesn’t necessarily rely on successful detonation or particular expertise.

  5. Khadijah
    05/06/2010 at 6:24 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that I could make one go boom, so I am confused at the amateurish construction. My initial thought is that it was not actually intended to explode. I mean, come on, using the wrong fertilizer? That is so basic to an old farm girl.

    Still, the average American is gonna believe that it was a viable bomb and some freakish accident made it not go up. So, the terror value is actually there, without the mayhem, and ill will caused by dead bodies.

    Of course, this guy was an accountant with IT background.

    As a Muslim, I am pretty accustomed to those who are not from America, blaming our system for their failures. It is sometimes as if they think they can come here from the desert of Saudi Arabia, and vavoom, money and success will magically just happen.

    In present economic times, even natural born Amercians are struggling to make a go of it. There just aren’t many silver platters out there.

  6. Bill
    05/07/2010 at 5:32 pm

    @Karaka, excellent point about the effects of an attack, even a failed one. As a two-time veteran of the Iraq war who has been deeply involved in targeting IED networks and tactics, my primary concern is that of a probing attack. Might this rather amateurish and obvious attack (After all, whose internationally coordinated VBIED smokes before *not* detonating?) be an attempt to learn our standard response procedures and adapt to them? How long does it take to evacuate an area? What radius are people evacuated to? How long does it take for the bomb squad to respond? How long, and by what means was the perpetrator apprehended? I am confident that the next incident of this type will have secondary explosive devices targeting evacuated personnel.

  1. 05/04/2010 at 7:26 am

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