Stupid engineer

The guy that drove the Jeep into the airport then tried to blow it up wasn’t a medical doctor as was originally reported:

THE terror suspect critically ill in a hospital burns unit is an engineer with the skills to make the explosives used in the Glasgow and London attacks.

It has emerged that Kafeel Ahmed, who allegedly drove the Jeep into a Glasgow Airport terminal last Saturday, is a doctor of engineering, not medicine.

Police believe he may have made the two bombs found in vehicles in London, as well as the one in the foiled Glasgow attack.

Ahmed, 28, who was previously thought to be called Khalid, has a masters degree in aeronautical engineering and a doctorate in computational fluid dynamics, a highly specialised subject in which computers are used to simulate the flow of fluids and gases.

The bombs from London and Glasgow consisted of gas cylinders, petrol and a detonating system using mobile phones.

Aeronautical engineering isn’t normally about making explosives for bombs–although occasionally that is the inadvertent outcome. But still one would think a good engineer would be able to make something work and would also know enough to do some tests. But it could be he didn’t have any practical experience. Schneier called it Terrorist Special Olympics in the UK.

As Ry and I discovered some things that you think would be incredibly easy are not. For example, we spent a couple years, off and on, before we came up with a exploding fireball target that worked. See Project Fireball for both our successes and our failures. And even with all our experiments we occasionally change “some little thing” and we get a failure. As Ry puts it, “We don’t have enough columns on the spreadsheet.” I recently purchased some ammonium nitrate from a new supplier. The old stuff was fertilizer grade material which took us a couple years of tweaking our recipe, containers, and procedures before we got reliable detonations at Boomershoot. The new stuff is explosive grade. We will do extensive tests and probably make some changes before trusting it for an actual event.

I think it’s Hollywood that changes our expectations of both the ease and the effect of explosives. In the recent U.K. cases we can probably thank Hollywood as well as a stupid engineer for the failures of the terrorist bombs.