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Home ministry sounds 'powder' alert at airports

December 29, 2009 22:36 IST
The home ministry has sounded alert at all small and major airports to tighten security and seize any suspicious powder or liquid any passenger may try to smuggle in on any domestic or international flight.

The alert warns that the stuff may be a sophisticated explosive alike one used by a young Al Qaeda-linked Nigerian last week in a failed attempt to blow up a United States airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit.

At the instance of a US advice, the government does not want to take a chance as there may be other colleagues of the Nigerian ready with the mysterious powder that is 'smell neutral,' and hence cannot be sniffed out by even the trained dogs.

The alert quotes the US authorities pointing out that Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who was wounded in a blaze from the powder he had tied to his leg, had a new kind of explosive device that obviously made it through checks at Schiphol.

It specifically asks the Central Industrial Security Force and state police chiefs to direct their security personnel at the airports to look for colourless and odourless PETN (Pentaerythritol Trinitrate) powder that can be used to make very powerful bombs on the spot.

The alert warns that the stuff will be hard to detect if carried in a sealed container, and hence better seize any powder material with the passengers and rush it to the nearest laboratory for carrying
out the necessary chemical checks.

Persons carrying the stuff may also be detained if they are not able to satisfy the material in their possession, at least until the laboratory clears it as non-explosive, the alert said.

The security authorities have been asked to intensify frisking to be thorough to prevent anybody getting the explosive powder in any aircraft. They have been asked to scan for powders in not only the hand baggage, but also in the checked-in luggage to ensure there is no fire or explosion in the luggage compartment.

Sources in the home ministry said the security men posted at the airports are not trained to detect the new kind of explosives that can be manufactured on the spot by mixing two or more materials. Hence the best course felt was to seize any power or liquid that they are not able to identify properly.

Mostly such explosives are prepared by mixing a powder substance with acid or some other liquid, but there are also certain substances that can blow up by just coming into contact with water or Oxygen in air, the sources said. The terrorist has to just tear a little a sealed packet and leave it to explode, the sources added.

The alert, therefore, says a complete 'No, no' if someone is carrying both powder and liquid that are not identifiable, but it says even the possession of unexplained powder should be questioned.
A Correspondent in New Delhi