A packet containing white powder, which was later identified to be explosive, was found inside the Uttar Pradesh Assembly on Thursday. The packet, which weighed around 150 g, was found under the seat of Samajwadi Party MLA Mano Pandey. The forensic laboratory has identified the powder substance to be a plastic explosive PETN (Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate). Addressing the assembly session on Friday, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said, “This is PETN, this is a dangerous substance. It will be revealed who is behind this. Police verification should be conducted of every security personnel.”
Here is everything you need to know about PETN:
What is PETN?
PETN or Pentaerythritol tetranitrate is one of the most dangerous plastic explosive. The substance is available in black market, and belongs to the same family as nitroglycerin. It is preferred by militant groups because it cannot be easily detected owing to its colourless crystals. Majority of explosive detectors use metal detectors, but PETN can be kept hidden in a sealed container or an electrical equipment and thus can easily surpass security checks.
According to a 2010 report by The Guardian, several countries have severe restrictions on purchase of PETN which can be bought in powder form or thin plastic sheet. The substance is legally used by the military and in mining industries where it is used in detonators for detonating cords and mines. PETN can be mixed with other chemicals to form Semtex.
How does it operate?
PETN does not go on its own. The explosive needs a secondary detonating mechanism to produce heat or a shockwave, which can detonate the explosive. James Crippin, a Colorado explosives expert, told CBS in an interview in 2009 that the substance is stable and safe to handle, but it requires a primary explosive to detonate it. The device, according to The Guardian, mostly relies on plastic cap to set it off.
Where has it been used before?
PETN substance has been used in number of bombing incidents over the years, some of which did not come to fruition. In 1983, Carlos the Jackal used PETN device in 1983 for the attack in Maison de France, the French cultural center in Berlin. In 2001, “shoe bomber”, Richard Reid tried to blew off an American Airlines plane on its way to Miami. Reid tried to set the explosive on fire but failed to do so. In 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to set off PETN explosive hidden in his underpants in a failed attack on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit. In 2010, Abdullah Hassan Al-Asiri tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s deputy interior minister with a PETN-bomb hidden inside his body. It was also used in 2009 Christmas bombing plot in 2009, and in 2010 cargo plane bomb plot in London and Dubai, a report from Economic Times said.
Apart from reports of PETN explosives from all around the world, the substance is believed to have been used in 2011 Delhi High Court blast, in which at least 17 people lost their lives. “Preliminary investigations reveal the blast created small cater. Evidence found by the forensic team indicates towards the possible use of nitrate-based explosives laced with PETN,” UK Bansal, Internal Security Secretary, had told reporters, after the blast.
How can PETN be detected?
Some airport security officials are employing addition security check methods that “sniffs” passengers, according to a report by The Guardian. The report says that some airports also analyses swabs of clothing and personal belongings of passengers, in order to trace the small residue of explosives on a person who has handled the substance. But the method does not guarantee a person carrying PETN will be detected, the report says.