C.J. Chivers
Dec 5, 2015 · 2 min read

Did Al Qaeda’s On-Line Magazine Influence the Design of the San Bernardino Perps’ Bombs?

Of the many details emerging today related to the search of the home and garage of Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook, the description of apparent bomb components was among the most intriguing. The list of items seized by investigators and left behind at the apartment, and another law enforcement document reviewed by The New York Times, both mention Christmas tree lights or, in one reference, “miniature Christmas tree lamps.”

That reference reverberates among bomb disposal techs who track developments in improvised explosive devices, because the combination of the small bombs made from pipe elbows (confiscated immediately after the mass shooting yesterday in San Bernardino) and the reference to the Christmas tree lights as components, could be read as a direct echo from a recent issue of Inspire, al Qaeda’s English-language magazine.

Inspire’s issue number 14, posted this September, included a step-by-step tutorial offering an update on the familiar pipe-bomb concept. The leading image for the article, entitled “Designing a Timed Hand Grenade,” is shown above. The pages that followed, partial excerpt below, included detailed guidance in how to repurpose a small Christmas tree lamp by converting it to an electrically-powered igniter with a brief delay. (The article immediately followed another entitled “Assassination at a Workplace.”)

How well might the AQ igniter system work? There is at least one clear answer to that, based on data. But we won’t share it. The points here are not about efficacy of one particular improvised system or another, but how about bomb-manufacturing knowledge can move, and some of the potential sources for this proliferation.

So far the FBI has said that one of the perpetrators had sworn allegiance to the so-called Islamic State. But details in law-enforcement documents, public and not yet public, suggest that the couple behind the rampage in San Bernardino may also have gleaned specific technical instruction from a very recent issue of the prominent Qaeda magazine. There are grounds for thought about what that might mean.

More, on the NYT.

    C.J. Chivers

    Written by

    Reporter, @nytimes & @NYTmag.

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