Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

From bombs to TNT

In the wake of last week’s bomb attacks in Cairo, questions are being asked about the reasons behind the growth in the manufacturing of explosives, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt has been witnessing an increase in terrorist bombing operations in recent months, and it seems that in the light of the recent bomb attacks the capacities of those making explosives, from Molotov cocktails to primitive homemade devices and from there to TNT, are becoming more sophisticated and diversified.

“We urgently need to reinforce the security apparatus in order to deal with developments,” security expert Ehab Youssef said.

More than 350 police and soldiers have been killed in bombings and shootings since former President Mohammed Morsi was deposed last year, most of them in the Sinai Peninsula where Islamist radicals expanded into the security vacuum left by the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

Recently, the terrorist bombings have not only been rocking Sinai but have also moved to the capital and the Delta governorates.

One of the early bombings outside Sinai was the failed assassination attempt on Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in September 2013 by a car bomb targeting his motorcade in the Cairo district of Nasr City.

The attempt was the first attack on a senior government official since the toppling of Morsi in July that year and it reminded commentators of previous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Islamists in the 1980s and 1990s against the rule of Mubarak, when senior officials, including the then parliamentary speaker and interior minister, were targeted.

The Sinai attack, for which the Al-Qaeda-inspired militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility, was conducted with the use of at least 200 kg of TNT, according to initial investigations.

In December 2013, the Daqahliya Security Directorate in Mansoura was hit by another TNT bomb, but this time 500 kg of TNT was used. This week, more than seven bomb attacks hit the Greater Cairo area, the most serious against the Cairo Security Directorate in the early morning of 24 January by a car bomb also using TNT.

“The Cairo Security Directorate bomb was larger than the Daqahliya one. The quantity of TNT used was more than half a ton,” Mohamed Shawki, the Interior Ministry’s head of explosives’ department, said.

According to security experts, such large quantities of explosive material or TNT had not previously been found in Egypt, and it is thought to have been smuggled into the country. Fouad Allam, a security expert and former deputy head of the National Security Apparatus (NSA), said that TNT explosives were usually smuggled in either from Libya or Gaza.

Due to the security breach that accompanied the early days of the 25 January Revolution in 2011, many radical militant elements and explosive materials had been smuggled into Egypt during this period, experts said.

However, the heavy costs of smuggling may also have led to the growth of domestic manufacturing, and there have been reports of the security forces seizing warehouses containing explosives in Egypt.

On Tuesday, the interior ministry announced that it had seized a warehouse in Helwan near Cairo that was linked to a Muslim Brotherhood member and defused some 20 homemade bombs.

Earlier this week, the security forces arrested five people accused of manufacturing homemade bombs in Boulaq Al-Dakrour. After searching a suspect warehouse police found large quantities of petrol and other liquids in addition to a collection of metal shrapnel ready to be used in homemade bombs.

On Friday, the interior ministry announced that the security forces had arrested a fugitive accused of manufacturing bombs and had seized 23 homemade bombs made of gunpowder and fragments of glass and gravel in his house in the Qaloubiya governorate.

“Metal shrapnel, screws and gravel are the materials often used in homemade explosives along with gunpowder in order to increase the death toll or injuries,” Hatem Bahgat, an explosives expert, said.

Ten days ago, the security forces seized a truck carrying a ton of explosives, the largest single seizure of explosives made in Sinai, on its way through a tunnel in Suez. According to the Interior Ministry, 2.5 tons of similar explosives were found in three separate searches over the past month. Five tons of such explosives have been seized by the authorities over the past three months.

“The terrorists want to pretend that Egypt is not a safe country and sow fear among Egyptian citizens so that they feel unsafe and that instability will prevail,” Shawki said, adding that the security forces would firmly combat all such attempts. The security forces had successfully defused homemade bombs in recent months after suspect packages had been reported to them, he said.

Experts believe that the growth in explosives manufacturing has been caused by greed or financial gain, regardless of the results of the explosives. They have been manufactured by terrorists who have no national loyalty and want to destroy the homeland, they say.

Such primitive bombs are commonly used because of their ease of manufacture, and explosives experts have successfully defused more than two such primitive bombs planted on the Cairo metro over the past two weeks. Though these bombs cannot cause major damage, they could cause panic because of their explosive sound.

One such type of primitive bomb is called a “mouna bomb” because it is manufactured using the same technology as the fireworks sometimes given to children at festivals. However, themouna bombs are larger — the size of a cigarette packet — and they are packed with gunpowder and gravel. 

According to Al-Ahram Weekly sources, such bombs were originally manufactured by thugs and drug-dealers to be used in fights with their rivals or with the police if they are about to be arrested.

Prior to the revolution, mouna bombs cost between LE5 and LE10. However, since then prices have risen to some LE40 owing to the hike in demand and the use of more-efficient black gunpowder. Such primitive devices do not need timers or electric circuits to be detonated, and they will go off if thrown hard against a wall.

Mohamed Adel, a 21-year-old student, is a regular buyer ofmouna bombs. “I used to buy them to use in battles for LE20. They can be thrown at attackers from a fair distance,” he said. “They don’t cause real injuries, but only make a huge sound when they explode. For this reason, they are also used during wedding celebrations or festivals as they make a very impressive sound.”

Molotov cocktails, also known as petrol bombs or “poor man's grenades,” have also been used since the Revolution in clashes with the police. The bombs are easy to prepare, as they only need a small quantity of petrol or even alcohol in a glass bottle. Due to the relative ease of production, they are frequently used by protesters, and they are primarily intended to set targets ablaze rather than to destroy them.

Ahmed Tharwat, one of the 25 January Revolution protestors, said that he had never used Molotov cocktails. “However, they were the only weapon we had at the time, aside from stones, in our fight with the security forces.”

Experts believe that the security apparatus, overstretched because of the need to secure the New Year’s Eve and Orthodox Christmas celebrations and safeguard a two-day national referendum as well as the celebrations of the third anniversary of the Revolution, should now be stricter about policing such “minor” explosive devices.

“The security apparatus needs to be reinforced in order to deal with the various sources of violence. New procedures need to be applied to prevent any further attacks,” Youssef said.

Regardless of the procedures, adequate security cordons should be in place around targeted buildings and facilities in order to prevent the use of car bombs, experts say. Border security should also be tightened to prevent the smuggling of explosive materials, and there should be further crackdowns on the criminal hot spots in which the explosives are made.

Modern surveillance cameras should be used to record events around sensitive buildings and institutions and modern communications methods used swiftly to report any incidents, they add.

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