Pipe bombs: low-tech, lethal tools of terror
July 27, 1996
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Explosives experts call it an "anti-personnel fragmentation device," but in Georgia, the pipe bomb that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park Saturday is an all-too-familiar instrument of terror.
In Georgia, the pipe bomb has a long and murderous history as a low-tech tool of mayhem favored by white supremacists and other political extremists.
It was a nail-studded pipe bomb that killed a civil rights attorney in Savannah, Georgia, and a federal judge in neighboring Alabama in 1989.
Pipe bombs have also turned up in the arsenals of many of Georgia's homegrown political warriors.
Earlier this year, police arrested three members of a Georgia-based anti-government "militia" group amid reports that they may have had plans to attack the Olympic Games. Among the weapons seized in the arrest was a pipe bomb.
Simple and deadly
A pipe bomb is a fairly simple device -- literally a length of pipe capped a both ends and filled with an explosive. Often they are packed with nails and screws to heighten damage as was the case with the pipe bomb that exploded Saturday killing one person and injuring 111 others. A cameraman died of a heart attack after the bombing.
Investigators initially described the bomb as a crude device, although sources tell CNN it contained a timer, which may suggest greater expertise.
Experts warn that simple devices, while not the weapons of sophisticated terrorists, can cause considerable damage.
"The fact that it was an unsophisticated device doesn't mean it was an unsophisticated threat," said security consultant Martin Vitch. "Even though they may be simple, because (they) are homemade, they are sloppy, and sloppy can make it very, very dangerous."
The bomb that exploded in the park Saturday was actually three pipe bombs packed with black gun powder, nails and screws, sources told CNN.
"I would venture to say that that was between two pounds and maybe five or six pounds of explosive," said security expert Jack McGeorge. He described the bomb as "not very big at all."
Pipe bombs come in all shapes and sizes. They are simple and cheap to make and potentially more unstable than military bombs.
"Essentially it's a pipe," McGeorge said, "a plain old plumbing pipe, threaded ends with caps screwed to both ends. The components are available in any hardware store in the country."
It could happen again
With bomb instruction manuals available from the Internet to many bookstores, bomb experts say another incident could easily happen again.
The pipes can be filled with low-order gunpowder or higher-order plastique. It can be rigged to go off instantly or with a timer.
Based on the information investigators have disclosed, the pipe bomb that exploded in Atlanta had little in common with the powerful bombs that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City or damaged the World Trade Center in New York -- where shock waves caused most of the damage and deaths.
It was the shrapnel, tiny bits of the bomb itself, that caused the most injuries at Olympic Park, according to Vitch.
Vitch says there may be more like it out there.
"I would not be completely surprised if we didn't see another incident before the Olympics are over," he said. "This is too rich a target."
Correspondent Ann Kellan and Reuters contributed to this report.
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