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Homeland Security warns of 'pillow bombs'

From Patty Davis
CNN


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday confirmed terrorists have discussed using stuffed animals, pillows and clothing to smuggle explosives aboard commercial airliners.

The explosive -- nitrocellulose -- is a propellant for ammunition and some rockets and is extremely flammable when packed in a sturdy container.

The department issued a warning about the possible use of nitrocellulose on August 8 to airport managers, state and local law enforcement and border agents after receiving "actionable intelligence" that al Qaeda or other terrorist groups were trying to exploit this explosive method.

Tuesday was the first day the media reported the warning.

"This is just another example of us reminding screeners and security professionals of the tactics al Qaeda may use," said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

He said the nation's airports have protective measures in place. Airport screeners have been told to examine all items that show evidence of tampering and look for suspicious behavior or dress that would not be appropriate to the season or the weather.

The August 8 advisory states, "The explosives may be hidden inside the lining of items and may use ordinary features such as wristwatches, buttons and zippers to camouflage or to serve as power sources and ignition components."

Homeland Security says al Qaeda training manuals that were confiscated suggest operatives were trained to make nitrocellulose and that adding nitroglycerine helps make the mixture more sensitive to ignition.

In addition, according to counterterrorism officials, information about pillow bombs came from detainees and from documents gathered in several raids. They emphasized that no specific plans were uncovered, just general information about the use of such bombs.

The advisory says previous information suggested al Qaeda packed a heavy jacket with nitrocellulose to create an explosive device.

While nitrocellulose is not detectable by airport X-ray machines, it can be detected by trace detection machines that are used as backups at passenger screening checkpoints. Trace detection involves the screener rubbing a swab over the jacket or toy or laptop computer and testing the swab for explosive residue.


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