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TERRORISM

‘Mother of Satan’ explosive found in Spain bomb factory

Traces of the easy-to-make but deadly explosive TATP -- known as the "mother of Satan" -- have been found in a house where the alleged attackers in the twin assaults in Spain were believed to be building bombs, police said Sunday.

'Mother of Satan' explosive found in Spain bomb factory
Police officers investigate the rubble of a house, where suspects of this week's twin assaults in Spain were believed to be building bombs, in Alcanar . Photo: AFP

Used by jihadists everywhere from Paris and Brussels to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the dangerously unstable TATP has become the explosive of choice for the Islamic State group, which claimed the attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils.

Investigators uncovered ingredients of the explosive at a house in the town of Alcanar, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Barcelona, believed to be the terror cell's bomb-making factory.

READ MORE: Terror cell planned to target Sagrada Familia with van of explosives

Discovered at the end of the 19th century by a German chemist, TATP is a homemade explosive created by mixing precise quantities of acetone, oxygenated water and sulphuric, hydrochloric or nitric acid — all of which are easily available in high street stores.

Nail polish remover is essentially acetone, while oxygenated water is a commonly used disinfectant.

The mixture creates a coarse powder of white crystals that requires only a basic detonator to explode, triggering a huge blast of burning gas.  

READ ALSO: 120 gas canisters found for use in one or more attack

Jihadists have set up entire labs — at first backroom affairs, but increasingly reaching industrial levels — to produce TATP and other explosive materials in Syria and Iraq.

The UK-based Conflict Armament Research monitor said in a report last year that 51 companies had supplied the components needed to make homemade explosives at semi-industrial levels to IS.

The companies were spread across 20 countries, including Turkey and Russia, but also Belgium and the United States.  

Detonators can be made with a thin metal tube filled with paste and linked to two electric wires that will spark and trigger a flame when connected.    

But they can just as easily be bought ready made from a shop.  

One of the attackers in the November 2015 bloodbath in Paris had bought a dozen pyrotechnic detonators at a fireworks store in the Paris region without raising the slightest suspicion.

Yet contrary to urban myth, more than a tutorial online is needed to learn how to put the ingredients together.

The most delicate part is adding the acid to the mixture, which lets off heat and can catch fire, but a simple mask is all that is normally needed for protection.

The volatility of the operation is perhaps illustrated by the fate of the suspects preparing the bombs in Alcanar, where they are believed to have accidentally sparked a detonation that killed at least two of them on the eve of the Barcelona van rampage.

ENVIRONMENT

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.

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