A pipe bomb tutorial featured in the summer 2015 issue of Inspire magazine. (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)

‘How to Make a Bomb’ Was a Top 10 Google Search Term in September and October

“How to make a bomb” ranked in the top 10 terms searched on Google in September and October 2020, said a DHS bombing prevention awareness bulletin asking stakeholders to learn how to spot and report potential explosive devices.

“Couple this with more recent events and the evolving National Threat assessment, and it has become evident that it is your turn to act,” said the new Office for Bombing Prevention Bulletin from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “…It is your turn to recognize and report suspicious activity, to ensure your safety and the safety of others.”

OBP leads and coordinates initiatives and training to help public and private sector entities prepare for, prevent, and respond to bombing incidents. Resources include counter-IED awareness, security assessments, and information sharing tools.

“As with any potential or actual incident, all suspicious activity or threat information should be immediately sent to local law enforcement agencies. If you observe suspicious activity, you can also call, (1-855-TELL-FBI),” the OBP Bulletin said. “Criminals or terrorists sometimes conceal IEDs in backpacks, suitcases, or common items. If an item is determined to be Hidden, Obviously Suspicious, and Not Typical (aka ‘HOT’), use the ‘RAIN’ process to safely determine if an item is a serious threat or just unattended.”

That process is: “Recognize the Indicators of a Suspected Explosive Device, Avoid the Area, Isolate the Suspected Item, Notify Appropriate Emergency Service.”

During the COVID-19, pandemic, the Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program (BMAP) has been conducting in-person outreach using coronavirus safety protocols as well as virtual outreach to point-of-sale locations that sell, store, or distribute bomb-making materials, explosive powders, and explosive precursor chemicals.

A year ago, a special advisory BMAP bulletin on the “Iranian-Inspired Terrorism Threat” warned communities to watch out for suspicious purchases that could indicate construction of an IED.

“Individuals inspired to commit acts of terrorism may try to acquire or legally purchase common household items such as explosive precursor chemicals (EPCs), explosive powders, and IED components at retailers in your community to construct IEDs for use against infrastructure targets,” the advisory warned. “Our best opportunity to prevent an IED attack is to disrupt terrorists during the planning phase of the terrorist attack cycle. During the planning phase, terrorists are most vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation while attempting to acquire the materials necessary to build IEDs.”

Suspicious behaviors include acting aloof, argumentative or manipulative, acting unusually agitated or antisocial, “exhibiting a noteworthy level of nervousness while inquiring about or purchasing potentially dangerous items,” surveilling security, or researching how to make a bomb.

Suspicious purchases include unusually large quantities bought in one shot or bulk purchases picked up in store, paying with large amounts of cash or another person’s credit card, ignorance of how a product is properly used or questions about unlawful or atypical uses, “refusing to accept substitute products that perform better or are less expensive,” being obsessed about the chemical makeup of products, or “unusual ordering, purchasing patterns and/or purchases spread across multiple stores in a chain.”

A week later, BMAP alerted stakeholders that readily available exploding targets used by shooters for long-range target practice “can be easily misused” to construct improvised explosive devices.

Few states regulate the sale of binary exploding targets, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) doesn’t regulate the kits in their sale form — unmixed ingredients that don’t meet the standard for explosive materials. Once mixed into an explosive, the target will be ignited by a round going at least 2,000 feet per second. And once mixed, any transportation of the explosive target requires a federal explosives license or permit.

Explosive target kits have been used in “many instances” to make IEDs or were present with other bomb-making materials, BMAP notes, including the September 2016 bomb in the Chelsea district in New York City that injured 29 people and the November 2106 arson at an Old Navy store in Albuquerque; the perpetrator was caught with a high-caliber rifle and a box from a popular explosive target manufacturer. Las Vegas mass shooter Stephen Paddock had 50 pounds of Tannerite in his car along with 1,600 rounds of ammunition.

BMAP urged retailers to watch for and report suspicious activity related to the purchase of explosive targets, including someone buying many at one time or showing a lack of familiarity with firearms.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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