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Monday, August 2, 2004

Nearly 3,000 Pounds Of Ammonium Nitrate Stolen In N.C.; Volatile Fertilizer Often Used In al Qaeda Truck Bombs

By J.M. Berger

UPDATED: 8/3/2004, 2:52 p.m.

Nearly 3,000 pounds of stolen ammonium nitrate are unaccounted for in North Carolina, even as the U.S. braces itself against a possible al Qaeda truck bomb attack.

Mixed with fuel oil, ammonium nitrate is a favored ingredient used in al Qaeda truck bombs.

Two and a half tons of the volatile fertilizer were stolen from a Royster-Clark fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, N.C. in early July, according to the Winston-Salem Police Department. Nearly a month after the theft was reported, 2,950 pounds are still unaccounted for, police said Monday. The rest was recovered.

A July 30 bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned of al Qaeda's frequent use of ammonium nitrate as a bomb component, also noting its use in Oklahoma City. The bulletin also cited recent instances in which al Qaeda has stockpiled ammonium nitrate abroad.

The unsolved theft from a North Carolina facility looms large as local and federal authorities responded to a Department of Homeland Security announcement that al Qaeda may be planning a truck bomb attack against U.S. financial centers in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Lt. Connie Southern of the Wintston-Salem Police told INTELWIRE Monday that police had recovered 41 of the stolen 50-pound bags of fertilizer.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, which first reported the theft on July 9, most of the recovered bags were found in vacant houses in the area and in an area home.

The remaining 59 bags are still presumably in the hands of the thieves. Dozens of similar 50-pound bags were purchased by Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh for use in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Winston-Salem police have no leads in the case, Southern said, and there were no clues to indicate who might have stolen the material. Southern said the investigation was expanded to include the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

But a source at the ATF who asked not to be named would say only that the bureau was aware of the theft. The ATF source could provide no information on the status of the investigation nor any details of the case.

A call to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. was referred to the FBI's Charlotte field office, which referred the call to another agent. That call had not been returned at the time of this update. A call to the Department of Homeland Security was not returned at the time of this update. As of the latest update, INTELWIRE could not confirm that any active investigation of the case currently exists at the federal level.

Winston-Salem police have not been informed of any change in the status of the investigation since Sunday's terror alert from the Department of Homeland Security, according to Southern. The management of Royster-Clark is cooperating with the investigation, she said.

Ammonium nitrate can be used to make crystal meth, a powerful illegal stimulant. While the theft in Winston-Salem could be tied to drugs, that doesn't necessarily preclude a terror risk.

The crystal meth business has itself been tied to terrorist activity on more than one occasion. The DEA said in 2002 that a nationwide methamphetamine drug ring had funneled money to Hezbollah and other Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

Timothy McVeigh is believed to have used crystal meth, but it's not clear whether he used it regularly. At McVeigh's trial, two close associates -- Michael and Lori Fortier -- admitted to being frequent users of the drug.

Crystal meth labs also use propane tanks, which have also been used in truck bombs.

Orange Alert Warns Of Truck Bombs

On Sunday, Department of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge announced an "orange alert" for specific financial institutions in New York City, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. The report said the alert was based on extremely specific intelligence, which indicated that al Qaeda may use truck or car bombs to attack specific buildings.

New intelligence obtained by the United States shows that al Qaeda has researched "the different types of materials that in fact should be brought into different types of vehicles, and to address whether or not certain materials can, if detonated, cause, in fact, buildings to collapse," a senior intelligence official said Sunday during a background briefing.

Winston-Salem is a small town in the northwestern corner of North Carolina. It's about a six-hour drive from Washington, D.C., and nine hours from New York City.

Winston-Salem is also less than 40 minutes from Greensboro, N.C., where 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed attended college during the 1980s.

Police recently discovered a half-ton cache of ammonium nitrate being stored by suspected al Qaeda terrorists in London. Several British news outlets reported today that an attack in the U.K. was indicated in the same intelligence that prompted the U.S. alert.

Ramzi Yousef used another commercial fertilizer, urea nitrate, in a truck bomb attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Some accounts have suggested that he used ammonium nitrate as part of the detonating mechanism.

A New York City terrorist cell linked to both Yousef and al Qaeda planned to use ammonium nitrate to attack NYC landmarks with truck bombs in 1993. That attack was foiled by authorities before it could be completed.

Soon after, Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Alfred E. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City with a bomb employing four to five thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate, mixed with a volatile racing fuel. (related story)

The 2002 Bali nightclub bombing is believed to have used ammonium nitrate as its main component. The fertilizer was also used in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Karachi in 2002. al Qaeda is believed to be linked to both those attacks. Authorities have recovered large caches of the fertilizer from suspected terrorists in various southeast Asian locations since the Bali attack. Several tons of ammonium nitrate were recently reported stolen in Australia.

Other reports of explosives theft have surfaced around the country. In San Mateo County, northern California, more than 200 pounds of explosives were stolen from a government facility. The stolen explosives included "C4, grenades, grenade simulators, signal flares, detonation cord, TNT, fuses and blasting caps," according to the Tri-Valley Herald newspaper. Four suspects have been indicted, and "most" of the explosives have been recovered.

According to the Juneau Empire Online, "an unknown quantity of safety fuse and one-pound canisters of Pentex cast boosters, a high explosive," were stolen from an Alaskan company in July.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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