Laughable but perhaps a threat: the 'keister bomb'
by Rick Montgomery - Oct. 1, 2009 11:43 AM
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Al-Qaida's new method of delivering a deadly payload - in effect a plastic explosive suppository - would make security experts nervous, you might think.
It is not easily spotted by conventional detectors.
But it does have some who know their explosives busting a gut. A month ago in Saudi Arabia, a terrorist named Abdullah Hassan Tali' al-Asiri reportedly walked past palace checkpoints with a small bomb inserted in a body cavity. Judging by the al-Qaida video featuring him proudly holding a device before committing the deed, it was about 3 inches long.
He wanted to blow up a Saudi prince but succeeded only in blowing off his own bottom half and destroying the floor.
His intended target, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and others in the room were largely unharmed. A Saudi news service quoted the prince saying, understatedly, "He surprised me by blowing himself up."
Suffice to say al-Asiri's technique has given rise to the term "keister bomb" online.
"It sounds almost like drunk logic, where an idea sounds great until the next morning and you're sober, going, Noooo, that won't work,' " said Paul Worsey. "Unless you're actually hugging somebody, nobody's going to get badly hurt."
Worsey can explain the physics, if he must, to quell any fears that this brand of terror will take off, making our trips to the airport ever more onerous.
"The force of such an explosion would be in the direction of the easiest exit," said the Missouri University of Science and Technology researcher and inventor of explosives, who more or less laughed off the threat.
"The rest of the body would work like a sandbag against the blast ... though it would be a mess."
Public reaction to the news posted this week on CBS.com included disgust, dark humor and a vague sense of creepiness about the stranger next to you on the plane, fidgeting to get comfortable in his seat.
Not to panic.
"We are aware," said Andrea McCauley, at the federal Transportation Security Administration, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, in Dallas. "We have a lot of different layers of security in place."
Among the myriad ways to screen airline passengers for explosives - the imaginative but equally unsuccessful "shoe bomber" of late 2001, Richard Reid, still has us removing footwear at the gates - McCauley noted: "Our behavior detection officers have been trained to recognize anomalies in someone exhibiting signs of stress or deception."
While these signs may be evident in one hiding an improvised explosive device where the sun doesn't shine, Sandy Straus of the Florida-based Explosives Academy said today's checkpoints may need radical revamping to catch butt-bombers of tomorrow.
"There are medical imaging techniques to spot such a device, but these are very expensive," said Straus, chief engineer at the online school for blasting contractors. "There are strip searches, but there also would be outrage if people were searched this way."
True, but as Worsey stressed, nobody can just walk into a place and detonate their behinds without the proper equipment. Al-Asiri's plot required a cell phone that a co-conspirator outside the palace had to ring, sending an electric current through a transistor relay apparently built into his phone, all to power a remote detonator of some sort in his rear.
"You could just collect all the cell phones" before a plane takes off, Worsey said.
Straus, on the other hand, said that's not enough: "The implications here are enormous. If we see more of these attacks, this ultimately will cost society a huge legal, financial and emotional expense."
Lewis Page, a science writer for the British online journal The Register, called for calm.
"With the deceased buttock-bomb operative the only casualty" in Saudi Arabia, Page told Web readers this was "nothing to get anyone's bowels in an uproar. Move along: nothing you even want to see here."