The American government’s anti-terrorism agency should expedite testing of technology to detect the “Mother of Satan,” an explosive used in last month’s Brussels bombings that killed at least 31 people, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
Schumer (D-New York), said newly developed detectors to “sniff out” the peroxide-based explosive known as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, ought to be field-tested quickly so the sensors can be deployed to the nation’s transportation hubs and perhaps along the Long Island Rail Road system.
Schumer’s call to speed up testing came the same day a New York state senator renewed a push for a state-level review of security in the region’s transit and commuter rail systems.
Both politicians made their comments amid heightened security concerns for New York City rail systems in the wake of the Brussels attacks that targeted its subways and airport.
Components of the TATP explosive include common household ingredients, including nail polish and hydrogen peroxide.
But while it’s easy to make with basic chemistry skills, it breaks down quickly when exposed to air and is unstable and dangerous for the bombmaker since it could explode during manufacturing. Schumer said testing is being eyed for the fall at facilities in Atlantic City, New Jersey and in Savannah, Georgia, but he wants it done now.
“We don’t have a moment to waste. Let’s start doing it right away. . . . The detectors could save countless lives,” he said at a news conference in Manhattan Sunday.
The testing could not be done now because of personnel and other research-related hurdles, but it could be expedited by several months depending on funding and how much of a priority government officials give the technology, said Otto Gregory, a University of Rhode Island professor of chemical engineering behind the technology.
“You might be able to bump it up a little bit but not a whole lot,” he said in an interview.
According to Schumer, the technology would continuously monitor the air and has detected the explosive “even in tiny bits” during lab tests, but now must be tried out in real-life settings. Schumer wants New York to be one of the first cities to get the technology.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not reply to requests seeking comment on Schumer’s demands.
TATP was also used by the so-called shoe bomber Richard Reid, who tried to detonate his footwear aboard a Paris-to-Miami flight in December 2001. The explosive — also used in 2005’s London bombings — was central in a foiled 2009 plot to blow up the New York City subways, and was a component in suicide vests in last year’s Paris attacks.
Schumer said currently no screening is done for TATP and a detector could be small enough to fit on a police officer’s belt.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), said Sunday that proposed legislation would require the New York State division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to conduct regular, comprehensive assessments of security on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s systems, including Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and city subways.
“With what happened in Brussels, it’s obviously brought renewed attention to the vulnerabilities of the subways and transportation infrastructure,” Gianaris said at a news conference at Grand Central Station.
— With Ted Phillips