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Why ammonium nitrate is so popular with terrorists

Last updated on: July 14, 2011 17:18 IST
From the hands of the farmer as a common fertiliser, in the hands of a terrorist as a deadly explosive: This is what ammonium nitrate has become. Vicky Nanjappa reports.

Before we deal with why terrorists continue to use ammonium nitrate (NH4,NO3), it would be pertinent to note that despite so many acts of terror involving this chemical, regulations regarding this Grade I explosive still continue to be weak in India.

The rules require that a seller has to have a licence to transport or sell ammonium nitrate. It also mandates that a stock register be maintained for its sale, and permission to sell it can be granted by an officer not less than the rank of a circle inspector.

While the rules sound airtight in principle, there is a loophole, when it comes to the buyer -- there is no regulation when it comes to a buyer -- he can pick it up and transport it without a permit.

Seemingly, this rule has been intentionally kept weak, since ammonium nitrate caters mostly to the farming community. A buyer can pick it off the shelves, but the rule mandates that the seller maintains a record of the same.

A police officer from Bengaluru says terrorists usually pick up ammonium nitrate under false names. They take advantage of the fact that the seller does not go too much into the verification process.

"More often than not, what we have found is that it is purchased in false names, which makes it very difficult to trace. An introduction of a permit even to purchase ammonium nitrate would go a long way in enhancing security," adds the officer.

Since ammonium nitrate is easily available, it becomes difficult to trace it even more so, because the culprits may have had bought or stolen it a while ago, and stocked it.

Terror groups have used this flaw in the law to their advantage, because of the ready availability of the compound, and because no suspicion is raised even as it is being transported.

"Unlike RDX, ammonium nitrate does not raise any suspicion," an expert asserts.

While it is the most used material in any terror strike today, traces of it being used in terror attacks dates back to 1996 (when it was first used by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City in America), and then again in Bali, in October 2002.

Also read: Gang blamed for missing 163 explosive trucks

Vivky Nanjappa