MS Risk Blog

The Iraqi Security Failure

Posted on in Iraq, IS, ISIS, Islamic State title_rule

On the 4th of July 2016, once again Baghdad was severely hit by one of the major bombing in the history of terrorism and the deadliest single attack in the war-weary country in years. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in response to the battlefield setbacks, including the recent loss of the western city of Falluja. The militants have stepped up their attacks on civilians and this is the latest in a string of assaults during Ramadan, a period of fasting and prayer for Muslims; but also a time when jihadists launch operations against those they regard as their enemies.

Iraqi officials have raised the figure for the number of people killed in Sunday’s suicide bombing in Baghdad; the health ministry has reported 281 killed in the attack, which targeted a shopping complex in the mainly Shia Muslim Karrada district. In Sunday’s bombing, an explosives-laden lorry blew up outside a crowded, three-storey shopping centre where people were enjoying a night out after breaking their daily fast for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The bombing has sparked widespread anger among Iraqis, some of whom have accused the government of failing to protect them. When Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the bombing site, people threw stones and shoes at his convoy and called him a “thief”. In the following days the Prime Minister dismissed key officials, including the country’s intelligence chief and directors of six state-owned banks, as he is trying to push through government reforms in the face of growing popular protests.

One protester hacked an official Iraqi government website Sunday, causing the address to link to a Blogspot page that accused the government of using fake bomb detectors. The official government website stayed down for several hours. The hacker changed the homepage of the government website to an image of a bloody child and a drawing of a fake bomb detector with the ISIS symbol on it. Concerns have been raised for years about fake, non-functional, hand-held bomb detectors being sold to and used by Iraq’s government at security checkpoints. Many online echoed the hacker’s opinion, saying the deadly bombing could have been prevented. Shortly after the hack, the prime minister’s office issued a press release saying that Iraqi security agencies would “withdraw manually held devices at checkpoints” and reopen a previous investigation into whether or not many bomb detectors are in fact functional. The fake bomb detectors, based on cheap devices for finding golf balls, were sold in large numbers to Iraq by fraudsters. The fake detectors were still being used at checkpoints in Iraq until few days ago. The man behind the ADE 651, the fake bob detectors, is James McCormick. In 2013 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the ruse. The former policeman, of Langport, Somerset, who was found guilty of three fraud offences at the Old Bailey, is thought to have made more than £50m from selling three models based on a novelty £13 golf ball finder, to Iraq and other countries.

The type of explosive used for the attack remains classified. A forensic examination of the site has not yet publicly unveiled any data, however in the November 2015 attacks in Paris, TATP (triacetone triperoxide) was used as the primary explosive in a number of bombs and suicide belts during the hours-long siege. TATP was again used in the 2005 London bombings that killed 56 and was also confiscated from Najibullah Zazi in his failed plot to attack the New York City subway system in 2009. Moreover there is an ongoing investigation on the primary ingredient in the devices detonated during the bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station 2016. The attack could become the latest example of the chemical’s use in terrorist strikes across Europe. Acetone peroxide is an organic peroxide formed by the oxidation of acetone to yield a mixture of linear monomer and cyclic dimer, trimer, and tetramer forms. The trimer is known as triacetone triperoxide (TATP) or tri-cyclic acetone peroxide (TCAP) a highly unstable explosive. Acetone peroxide coalesces into a white crystalline powder with a distinctive bleach-like odor and can detonate when exposed to exothermic reactions, friction, or shock. As a non-nitrogenous explosive, TATP has historically been more difficult to detect, and it has been implicated as the explosive used in terrorist attacks. TATP is easy to make and hard to detect, but is also incredibly unstable. In fact, all it takes is a firm tap to explode TATP with a force that’s about 80% as strong as TNT. Regardless of the nature of compound the entrusted ADE 651 would have always failed to detect any threats or hazardous materials.

The ISIS success is primarily due to the failure of the security services. In an embarrassing admission, the government has had to order security personnel to stop using bogus bomb detectors that, for years, have been widely known to be useless and admitting the critical failure of the country’s security services.