Diesel fuel-fertilizer mix could have killed thousands

June 25, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- The diesel fuel came from a Yonkers, N.Y., gas station. The 10-pound bags of plant fertilizer were purchased from a hardware store on Canal Street in New York.

Mixed together, these innocuous ingredients -- diesel fuel and fertilizer pellets -- formed an explosive known as AMFO that's so powerful it is used in the mining industry to shatter solid granite.

Used by terrorists bent on paralyzing a nation, munitions experts said it could have killed thousands of New Yorkers and destroyed millions of dollars in property. According to experts, the recipe for mixing such a bomb is widely available and often reprinted in survivalist and anarchist literature.

"It's a typical terrorist-type bomb," said one bomb expert who asked not to be named. "It has been used by Middle Eastern terrorists, the IRA, even radical political groups in the U.S."

According to New York FBI chief James Fox, federal agents caught the suspects in the act of mixing "the witches' brew."

"The investigation took on a certain urgency when they . . . actually began to acquire the fertilizer, fuel oil and 55-gallon barrels," said Mr. Fox. "As we entered the bomb factory, the five subjects were actually mixing the witches' brew. The smell of fumes from the mixture was overwhelming."

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described the explosive as "a very potent mixture that could cause significant damage."

Investigators removed three 55-gallon drums and two smaller barrels containing the AMFO ingredients from the makeshift bomb factory in the garage in the Jamaica area of Queens, N.Y. Federal sources said that FBI agents monitoring the group actually watched them purchase the pellet-style fertilizer from a hardware store on Canal Street.

Several weeks later, the sources said, suspects Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali and Clement Hampton-El tested the recipe by exploding a small bomb in rural Connecticut.

According to bomb expert Frederick Smith, who headed the FBI bomb squad for eight years, this type of bomb is not as volatile or as easy to detonate accidentally as the urea nitrate bomb that ripped through the World Trade Center on Feb. 26.

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