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Bomb-making video reveals scope of al Qaeda threat

mixing chemicals
An al Qaeda instructor mixes ingredients for an explosive in this video obtained by CNN.  

From Nic Robertson

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- An al Qaeda videotape obtained by CNN shows a level of sophistication in bomb making that would allow terrorists to arrive in a target city unarmed and easily put together high-explosive devices to carry out destructive attacks, experts who saw the tapes say.

Essentially a training video for select al Qaeda recruits, the tape shows the steps needed to make pure TNT and bomb components using easy-to-obtain materials to make powerful explosives from scratch.

"I did not think that they ... would have that capability at this point," said Tony Villa, a consultant for the U.S. government on terror tactics and bomb making. Villa said the video confirms his fear that al Qaeda's techniques are now so sophisticated that its bomb makers can cheat detection.

"The overarching point here is that they can pick any venue or target city -- with nothing on them -- arrive in that city and, based on what we are seeing here, [construct a bomb] using common materials," Villa said.

The training video is among 64 al Qaeda tapes CNN obtained, nearly all of which pre-date last year's September 11 terror attacks, from a source in Afghanistan who said they were found in a house where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had stayed.

The video shows an instructor -- taped from an angle that doesn't reveal his face -- demonstrating step by step how to make TNT and build detonators and fuses.

"Let me mention that this nitric is locally made," the instructor says as he begins to carefully pour chemicals into a glass bowl to make a compound used in detonators. " ... Mix the whole thing together until the liquidation process is over."

The instructor includes safety tips as he meticulously walks viewers through the process: "Watch out for the smoke that's coming out of the mixture," he says. "Avoid it."

The detailed videotaped demonstration complements already discovered written manuals on bomb making that al Qaeda disseminated, but makes the training process much more effective -- and potentially deadly -- experts say.

"Even the best guide you can ever have is the visual imagery on how you mix these things together," Magnus Ranstorp, deputy director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland told CNN.

The combination of advanced instruction with the easy availability of bomb-making ingredients amounts to "a great operational advantage," Ranstorp said.

Al Qaeda has had plenty of successes with its bomb-making technology.

In 1998, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were destroyed by truck bombs. Two years later, the terror group's bomb-makers attacked the USS Cole at the harbor in Yemen.

And one foiled attack gives insight into how al Qaeda uses the technology it is disseminating. In December 2000, four suspected al Qaeda members were arrested in Germany for plotting to blow up Strasbourg's ancient cathedral.

When investigators dug more deeply into the suspects' possessions, they found a collection of chemicals that authorities said the terrorists were planning to turn into a bomb.

Manuals detailing the manufacture of high explosives, including TNT, were found last November in an abandoned al Qaeda safe house.

Among them was a list of required ingredients and an explanation of how key chemicals can be easily extracted from household products purchased in pharmacies and hardware stores.

But the training video concerns terrorism experts even more.

"We may be at the threshold of a whole new wave of terrorism," Villa said. "This information getting in the wrong hands, obviously, would cause quite a lot of havoc to ourselves, and to our country, and to our allies."

In other al Qaeda documents recovered by CNN in November are details of how TNT -- similar to that manufactured on the training video -- is at the center of al Qaeda efforts to build a radioactive or so-called "dirty bomb."

In the video, al Qaeda recruits are shown how to make explosives from common ingredients.  

"Pure TNT is extraordinarily dangerous and may be linked towards trying to circumvent the process of making a nuclear device," Ranstorp said.

Nothing in any of the 64 videos shows al Qaeda has obtained the components necessary to manufacture a dirty bomb. There are no lessons, for example, in handling radioactive material.

But experts said the videos combined with the documents raise plenty of concern about al Qaeda capability for dirty bombs and other kinds of explosive applications, including suicide bombs.

"I think we can't rule anything out on what their capabilities are," Villa said, "and where they are going with this."




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