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Gilligan's bomb: Is it time to panic yet?

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Comment Noted ex-Beeb reporter Andrew Gilligan - perhaps most famous for coming out on the wrong end of the Kelly/Hutton/Iraq dossier fracas in 2004 - has been up to a different kind of journalism recently - building bombs for Channel 4.

Operating on behalf of the Evening Standard and Channel 4, Gilligan recruited a top UK explosives expert to make a "liquid bomb" which could be taken on board a plane under current airport security regs. Unsurprisingly enough, the effort has been declared a success, with the bomb being used to blow a hole in an old scrapped airliner.

The bomb in question was made by Dr Sidney Alford, one of the UK's premier explosives and ordnance-disposal experts. "About 400ml" of liquids were mixed in a drinks bottle bought from an airside shop, and triggered using a commercial detonator.

Gilligan quotes Alford as saying: "Terrorists could easily make this device. They could obtain access to the chemicals without too much difficulty. They're not particularly tightly-controlled liquids."

Gilligan goes on to say that "the revelation raises concerns over how effectively air passengers are being protected... two or three terrorists could carry it through security in the permitted quantities without raising suspicion... The test exposes potentially disastrous loopholes in the security regime".

Well, kind of. Actually, US government boffins carried out a very similar test more than six months ago to wide press coverage, so this is a rather old and niffy exposé. Indeed, our own Thomas C Greene revealed the full details of how to make such a device a year before that, scooping Gilligan by quite some distance.

However, not being interested in bigging up a marginal threat, he also pointed out the many practical difficulties involved in mixing up viable, deadly TATP from (fairly) easily purchased peroxide and acetone - and correctly laughed to scorn the idea that it's feasible to do this in an airliner lavatory.

That's not to say that four or five terrorists couldn't pass through security carrying their precursors and patiently mix up a viable batch of TATP in some secluded airside spot - and anyway, gaining access to airside doesn't necessarily mean passing through passenger security. Once the charge is done, the actual suicide bomber takes it aboard the plane. Bingo.

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