Bullets and bombers

Sebastian sent me an email this morning and suggested:

Apparently the Paris bombers had vests made of TATP explosive material. I was wondering if it might make a good post on the nature of the explosive, and particularly its sensitivity to bullets.

Good idea. I have written a little bit about TATP before but not in this context.

Sebastian also wrote on the general topic today. I would like to add that steel matches are excellent practice for making multiple head shots. In the right circumstances five head shots can be made in two seconds flat.

If you are in a shooting situation where your target is in close proximity to TATP explosives you should either make certain you don’t hit the containers or you are prepared to accept the consequences of a detonation. TATP is extremely impact sensitive:


Acetone peroxide impact sensitivity by JudyMaceo

GlobalSecurity.org says, “TATP is one of the most sensitive explosives known, being extremely sensitive to impact, temperature change and friction.” I have zero doubt about a TATP bomb detonating from a bullet impact.

In the case of a suicide bomber give serious consideration to a head shot. This is not just because of the reason above but because if you don’t shut them down in a fraction of a second they are likely to manually detonate it after they take a solid hit to anything but the central nervous system. Even then, a deadman switch could cause detonation as soon as they let go.

The range of the explosion is of course dependent upon the amount of explosives and the type of fragmentation jacket (which creates the shrapnel) used, and the objects between the bomber and innocent people. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this but it is better than no information at all:

A common security drill against suspected suicide bombers is to isolate the suspect to at least 15 metres (49 ft) away from other people, and ask him to remove his upper clothing (coat, shirt, etc.) in order to see if there is an explosive vest strapped under them.

Personally I would want at least this much range between them and me and I would take cover as low to the ground as I could. You will also have a fraction of a second between the time you pull the trigger and the time shrapnel arrives at your location. Use that time wisely.

20 thoughts on “Bullets and bombers

  1. joe:

    apparently there are more than a couple of chemists working for isis. in my view, the vests worn by the terrorists were not to blow others to smithereens, but to kill themselves in order to avoid capture and subsequent interrogation.

    the shooters were not trying to hide their identities, as they had i.d. on them which was recovered at the scenes of their deaths. they simply killed themselves to hide the identities of those farther up in the command chain.

    john jay

    • Seems like carrying ID could have been a rookie mistake. That attacker may have believed that his body would be entirely obliterated by the explosion, and therefore neglected to rid himself of ID.

      • Could be a rookie mistake, or could be part of the plan.

        Committing a terroristic attack and having your body found with a government-issued ID that says you’ve only been on the continent for a few weeks, and came in with a ship-load of refugees, will cause after-effects that reach much further than simply killing a bunch of people.

        The facts:
        – He came into Europe through Greece, six weeks before the attacks in Paris.
        – He came in with other “refugees” from Syria.
        – In that six-week timeline, he (in no particular order except the last) somehow acquired the weapons, got to Paris, made contact with others, and planned and committed the worst killing of French citizens since WWII.
        – ISIS-affiliated terrorists are using the refugee crisis to infiltrate Western nations. This is no longer a theory or hyperbole; it is fact.
        – Western nations, including the U.S., do not have the ability to verify identities, backgrounds, or histories (i.e. “vet”) for all the people coming in.

        What we can conclude from those facts:
        – Nowhere is safe from this kind of event if they accept Middle-Eastern “refugees” with no questions asked.
        – Even people who just arrived recently could be dangerous.
        – Someone who wishes to arm himself with illicit weapons can do so quite quickly, no matter the “gun control” laws. Alternatively, they could smuggle weapons in, which with open borders an no “vetting” might be even easier.
        – If ISIS can do it, so can Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram, or any other “extremist” group.
        – Any attempt at “vetting” will be inadequate; there are simply too many people. Mistakes will be made — people who shouldn’t be allowed in will nevertheless be allowed — and such mistakes will be costly. This doesn’t even necessarily mean terrorism; it could just as easily be typhoid fever, ebola, or any other contagion.

        Potential after-effects:
        – Western nations will face a choice: find a way to “vet” all the incoming “refugees”, turn away everyone, or accept everyone with no questions asked. The first is impossible, the second immoral (see next point), and the third suicidal.
        – Turning away all Syrian refugees means sending them right back to Syria. Right back into a hostile environment, and potentially back into the hands of the violent groups they’re fleeing. (Imagine telling a domestic violence survivor, “Sorry, no room at the women’s shelter; you’ll have to go home, back to your abusive spouse. You’ll be fine.” Kinda like that.)
        – With Western nations closing their borders and no longer being (relative) shining beacons of freedom and safety, and unwilling to step in and stop the carnage (thank you, Obama!), groups like ISIS will feel even more emboldened knowing their victims have no place to go, and the scene in Syria and other places will get even worse.
        – Additionally, you can bet at least a few of the returned refugees will opt to join ISIS, being the best chance of survival, and especially now that they’ve been directly harmed by the West.
        – Some already-emigrated will also feel slighted by their new governments for not allowing their family and friends to seek safety, and will become (more) susceptible to ISIS propaganda. (Think: the Tsarnaev brothers — naturalized citizens who turned against and attacked the nation and people that took them in.) Domestic terrorism will happen (and not by so-called “right-wing extremists”, though we will no doubt be initially blamed).

        I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I believe it will get worse before it gets better.

        • I would propose that the most ethical option is actually to send the Syrian refugees back–but send them back with a rifle or two per family, and a pistol for every person above the age of 12, and plenty of ammunition. Give them a bit of training on how to use these things, and some pointers for organizing a resistance as well.

          Of course, Obama wouldn’t go for this, and neither would the anti-gun ninnies at Europe. Apparently it’s more appropriate to let families be displaced, and bomb people at random.

          • I just saw a letter to the editor in today’s WSJ that advocated essentially that approach.

            Good one. Shades of the WW2 “Liberator” project.

  2. Did these guys have to manually arm, then detonate the vests – or were they rigged with a “deadman” switch that would detonate of they released it, after arming. If that’s the case, you’re pretty much hosed.

    • I’ve not read anything on that directly. But one attacker was shot by police and did not explode so it would seem they weren’t using deadman switches. I have updated my post to address the point you bring up.

      I believe that it can be inferred that if they are actively shooting the chances of a deadman switch are somewhat reduced.

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  4. You have some guy shooting people around you, I’m not sure you’re going to think “explosive vest” before you endeavor to take him out. I suppose that’s the point of your bringing it up. But Man; as if you wouldn’t have enough to think about, trying to incapacitate a shooter. This puts the high intensity event at Boomershoot into a different light, I’m a thinkin’.

    And here’s a plug, yes, but seriously; if you haven’t participated in the high intensity event, it is worth doing at least once. Up close and personal with high explosives is something you never forget, but more important is that you quickly discover that you can function well with all hell breaking loose around you. I imagine that most people sign up for the excitement, the adrenaline, but I believe that the most rewarding aspect of it, looking back, is having made the discovery that one readily enters a state of calm awareness in the midst of it, more readily when one has a task to perform (target selection and shooting, or in my case the last time I did it, with a borrowed carbine it was target selection, shooting, discernment of sight regulation and compensation. Add to that the required awareness of the other shooters, safety factors, ammo supply and reloads, et al).

    We’re doing it with rifles and carbines though. It would be wonderful if we could do it with pistols, but I understand there are issues there. Velocity/sensitivity/safety, where more velocity means a less sensitive target is acceptable, meaning a greater safety margin.

    So you see in there that when you’re banging away at Johnny Jihad at close range with your AR and you hit him in the jawbone instead of the temple, it’s because you forgot about your substantial sight-over-bore offset.

    I guess in France they’ll be talking about how to improve their relations with Syrian immigrants, now to be more accepting in general, and further clamp down on private gun ownership, whereas we’re going to talk about the niceties of close range marksmanship and Joe is going to warn us about shooting a raghead’s explosive vest.

    I forget, was it G. Gordon Liddy who made the famous comment “Aim for the head”? He was referring to the ballistic vest, but it works for someone who may be wearing explosives too. Something to keep in mind.

    Know your anatomy too. In addition to attending Boomershoot, we should be out hunting big game. Do your own butchering. And here’s a good place to say it again; the more I hunt the more disconnect I find between range shooting and field shooting. I won’t list all the important differences here. Better is for each person to list them as they think of them. In short, if you’ve only done range shooting, your equipment sucks and you’re doing it wrong. No really. That’s a joke phrase I borrowed from saysuncle.com but it fits here. Range shooting at night will flush out some of the problems, but far from all.

    • Lyle – Yes, it was Liddy who advocated head shots. In recent years, as my advancing age, declining eyesight and arthitic knees have assured I’ll never again win an IPSC, ICORE or 3-Gun match I’ve adopted the “how much can I learn from a match” approach. To that end, I always use one stage as the “G.Gordon Liddy stage,” head shots only. I lose points because if I’m successful at placing a .45 caliber hole in the ‘brain stem triangle” I don’t waste a second shot on that target. In 3-Gun I’ll still double tap the head shots, at least until I can afford enough 7.62X51 to use the AR-10 for all stages. I think I’ll start doing a couple more Liddy stages per match.

      I’d like to see a change in steel targets as well – instead of 10″ circles, how about an oval that’s 8″ high and 5″ wide? Since the rules are addicted to round plates, the ovals could be added as “extra credit” targets.

      Edited to add; I just noticed a 5 minute edit feature has been added. Thanks, Joe. !!

    • On anatomy: a couple of years ago I read an obituary for inventor Theodore Paris (in the WSJ of all places) which talked about some of his inventions. One of them — you can find it on patent search websites) is a design for a target that helps teach where to place your shots for best effect. The idea is that the front shows a bad guy in some position, usually not standing straight up looking at you. The back is marked with effectiveness circles — but the front is not. Place your shots, then flip over the target to see how well you did.
      The patent is expired so you can make your own. I’ve seen some variants that use photos of bad guys instead of drawings.

  5. A head shot to someone wearing a TATP explosive may keep them from detonating the device but the odds are good when the drop to the ground
    the impact would detonate them material. In fact the stuff is so unstable
    that it could go off just by bumping the vest into a wall. But if you’re a suicide
    bomber the stability of your explosive is not high on the list of priorities.

    • Dan:
      If what you’re saying is correct ( and I have no knowledge either way, so I’ll presume it is), I think a head shot is still preferable because when the explosion occurs on the ground, the bulk of the blast, shrapnel, body parts, etc., will be funneled upward, or at least some distance from the ground. If the vest detonates while the wearer is standing, the blast will be directed horizontally and downward, in daisy-cutter fashion. In scenario one, people on the ground would be safer; in scenario two, not so much.
      If I’m wrong about this, please say so.

      • Mythbusters did a segment on shrapnel distribution from a fragmentation grenade on the deck, busting the myth that the safest place is flat on the ground. They found there was no upward deflection in the pattern; the shrapnel covered everything line of sight. I would expect this to behave essentially the same, so it really wouldn’t matter whether the wearer was down before detonation. What’s the lethal radius of these things? Just be outside that.

        • In real life there is likely to be bodies, chairs, tables, vehicles, and other objects of daily living close to the ground. Also uneven ground and raised/lowered floors, sidewalks, and steps that all provide obstacles for the shrapnel.

          “On the deck” isn’t a guarantee to be safer but in general the odds are better than standing if you can’t increase your distance or find real cover.

  6. TATP was used quite a bit in Iraq. It needs to be cooled to keep it stable, typically with ice or dry ice, so looking for unusual wet clothing was an indicator. As the war progress, it appears that some inhibitors were found that made the mix more stable. A large number of chemist blew themselves up in making the peroxide.
    We had a number of briefings on this because they were looking for us to come up with detector technologies.

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