Inside the FBI’s secret bomb lab: Unprecedented access to elite forensic team and the IEDs that shaped global security


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EXCLUSIVE: In a extremely categorised lab, protected by many layers of safety inside the sprawling Redstone Arsenal Military submit southwest of Huntsville, the FBI’s chief explosive scientist is surrounded by highly effective reminders of the ever-evolving risk posed by terrorist bomb makers plotting the subsequent 9/11. 

The 2001 shoe bomb worn by Al Qaeda terrorist Richard Reid.  

The 2010 Instances Sq. automobile bomb designed to kill and injure dozens within the beating coronary heart of Manhattan.

The 2013 Al Qaeda-influenced pressure-cooker bombs that detonated close to the end line on the Boston Marathon.

“It is, like, the satan’s jigsaw puzzle,” Kirk Yeager defined to Fox Information, throughout an unique tour of the bomb lab facility in Alabama. “As a bomb examiner … your job is to take all these items and put collectively a coherent puzzle.” 

Clockwise from high: The 2001 shoe bomb worn by Al Qaeda terrorist Richard Reid; the collar bomb that killed an alleged co-conspirator in 2003; shrapnel from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing; and an alarm clock from the 2010 Instances Sq. automobile bombing try.

 (FBI proof images)


The post-9/11 risk from these crude however lethal gadgets, the explosive scientist defined, is “steady, ongoing and everlasting.”

With unprecedented entry to the FBI lab often known as TEDAC – the Terrorist Explosive Machine Analytical Heart – Fox Information solely obtained proof images that present the bombs that formed world safety after 9/11, and characterize that ever-evolving risk folks like Yeager work tirelessly to know.

“The shoe bomb is likely one of the first main makes an attempt towards aviation in the USA, and was a sport changer,” Yeager defined. “As a result of that is why we’re taking our sneakers off in airports.”

The proof images obtained by Fox Information present how explosives had been wedged into the only of that notorious machine.

The 2001 shoe bomb worn by Al Qaeda terrorist Richard Reid.

 (FBI proof photograph)

“For those who form of dissect it, it had a waffle sample within the backside. And really each a kind of little waffles was … filled with an explosive.”

Requested why the shoe bomb failed, Yeager mentioned luck and good screening performed a job. 

“They did not like one thing about [Reid]. Did not let him get on his flight. He got here again the subsequent day. The authorities had taken away a lighter from him,” he recalled. “And he got here on the subsequent day with some matches, he was attempting to take a seat there — and in case you ever attempt to mild matches on a aircraft, folks begin smelling it actually shortly. His seatmates acquired somewhat nervous, began calling for help.”

Yeager’s colleague Alice Isenberg, who now oversees FBI labs, analyzed the shoe bomb 17 years in the past – and was in a position to decide he had exterior assist.

“I in contrast that DNA profile to Richard Reid’s DNA profile and located that it was not the identical,” she recalled. “In order that advised us that that machine was constructed by somebody aside from Richard Reid.”

‘The shoe bomb is likely one of the first main makes an attempt towards aviation in the USA, and was a sport changer.’

– Kirk Yeager, the FBI’s chief explosive scientist

Whereas Reid did not mild the detonator, the FBI workforce confirmed the jury an indication of the explosive potential – to clarify simply how a lot injury a profitable shoe bomb might have completed.

Yeager and his colleagues say their work is greater than analyzing explosives; it’s designed to “acquire info that is helpful to the intel group, to the legislation enforcement group, and to precise bomb techs and EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) operators worldwide to assist them do their job higher and safer.”

Yeager additionally detailed the forensics on the Al Qaeda-influenced 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the place pressure-cooker bombs killed three and injured a number of hundred. He confirmed Fox Information the shredded backpack, fragments of the pressure-cooker bombs and shrapnel the Tsarnaev brothers used to maximise casualties. This included a heap of copper-coated metal shot, BBs and miniature nails, all designed to “improve the potential for them to be deadly.”

The Tsarnaev brothers later threw do-it-yourself pipe bombs at police throughout a dramatic chase, which was not a shocking option to Yeager and his workforce provided that an Al Qaeda affiliate instructed followers on that tactic of their terrorist journal.

2013 Boston Marathon bomb shrapnel, together with BB’s and nails, from strain cooker.

 (FBI proof photograph)

“I can present you a pipe bomb that Encourage Journal talked about. That is not new. Pipe bombs have been round for a protracted, very long time,” he mentioned.

Fox Information noticed proof images from the scene, together with the blast web site the place one of many backpacks was left. “You’ll be able to see among the carnage left over,” Yeager mentioned. “The blood, the stays of individuals’s private objects which have been misplaced as they’re fleeing in panic. You’re seeing what a bomb web site seems to be like, which is pure chaos.”

That created one other problem for first responders, as Yeager defined. “When persons are fleeing for his or her life, they’re forsaking purses, backpacks and different objects — and the bomb tech approaching scene is aware of one bomb has gone off, and there is at all times an opportunity there is a secondary machine on the market,” he mentioned. All these deserted possessions, then, are seen as potential gadgets that should be cleared, all whereas first responders try to save lots of lives, “so it is a very advanced, dynamic setting.”

To fulfill that problem, the Huntsville workforce developed a brand new strategy to disable bombs from a distance, utilizing water to disrupt the detonation.

“Water is a kind of distinctive supplies,” mentioned Ian Vabnick, head of analysis, growth, testing and analysis assigned to the FBI Counter ID unit. “Firstly … it has a really excessive warmth capability, and comparatively low density. And you may trigger water to jet very effectively at very excessive velocity, and which means numerous work on the goal.”

Fox Information additionally went inside the large FBI warehouse in Huntsville, dwelling to greater than 1,000,000 items of bomb proof. The vault is sort of a grim historic archive, permitting investigators to determine developments and pursue felony prosecutions.

“If a scientist at TEDAC finds a latent print inside an IED, that info can be searched towards databases and a person might be recognized,” Isenberg mentioned. “The first benefit terrorist has … is their anonymity. If we’re in a position to disrupt terrorist networks and determine precise bomb makers, we’re taking away from them that benefit that they’ve. And we will then prosecute them.”

The 2010 Instances Sq. automobile bomb plot was one other close to miss.

“It was one among these bombs that had the whole lot however the kitchen sink form of thrown in. He had a gun protected … with an explosive cost. [Faisal Shahzad] had some butane tanks. He had a strain cooker. He had some kind of thermos bottle. He had a clock timer … none of which functioned rather well,” Yeager mentioned.

2010 Instances Sq. automobile bomb’s butane financial institution.

 (FBI proof photograph)

Requested whether or not it was a profitable assault as a result of Shahzad acquired the do-it-yourself automobile bomb to its goal, Yeager mentioned, “Anytime you will get a tool, even a non-functioning machine, right into a goal, it principally creates panic and it creates, you understand, a sense of not being protected by the American public. So it had success.” 

Isenberg and Yeager mentioned the work can solely be achieved by a workforce, which grew out of the pressing have to thwart improvised explosive machine assaults in Afghanistan. The Terrorist Explosive Machine Analytical Heart now companions with a number of businesses, together with ATF and different models inside the Protection, Justice and Homeland Safety departments.

‘It was one among these bombs that had the whole lot however the kitchen sink form of thrown in.’

– Kirk Yeager, on the 2010 Instances Sq. automobile bomb

For investigators, some circumstances by no means appear completed – just like the weird 2003 plot that killed alleged co-conspirator Brian Wells with a bomb locked round his neck.

“Collar bomb will stick in my reminiscence perpetually as a result of it took seven years of my life,” Yeager mentioned. “There was one piece out of a whole lot that appeared to me prefer it was in all probability a part of the bomb, however, like, not 100 p.c positive. … And that is going to hang-out me till I retire.”

Fox Information’ Pamela Okay. Browne contributed to this report.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX Information Channel (FNC) primarily based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Division and the Division of Homeland Safety. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

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