Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Analysis Of The Explosives

One curious consequence of writing about the Madrid bombings and the conspiracy theories, is that you start to find out more than you ever really wanted to know about a whole range of subjects. It never occurred to me that I might end up one day writing blog posts about the chemical components of explosives, or that the central theme of what I write might be a substance called dinitrotoluene (DNT).

It has been a constant theme of those behind the conpiracy theories that there is no firm evidence that the explosive used in the train bombs was really Goma-2 Eco. This is despite the discovery of this Spanish made explosive in several places connected to the bombings, including of course an unexploded bomb recovered from one of the trains. The tests carried out in the aftermath of the bombings failed to identify the explosive via chemical analysis, the verdict was that the identified components were common to different types of dynamite, and that it was impossible to state with absolute certainty which particular dynamite had been used.

Naturally, the conspiracy theorists sought to use this uncertainty to push the suggestion that the explosive could have been Titadine, a different dynamite and a past favourite of ETA. With the aim of dispelling doubts about the issue, the court hearing the case against the accused ordered analysis on all surviving samples from the different sites to be repeated before the beginning of the trial. The latest tests on the samples have been carried out under strictly controlled conditions, with experts present from the police, the defence, and victims associations. The tests have been filmed to ensure maximum transparency.

The results published so far confirm the position maintained throughout the judicial investigation, that the tests taken at the sites of the explosions do not provide definitive confirmation of the use of a particular explosive. What has been found are traces of different substances which point to the use of dynamite. The presence of certain substances in the results of these tests can be used as an indicator for excluding the use of dynamites which do not contain these substances, but nothing more definitive than that seems to be possible.

Of the substances identified in the tests, all of them are recognised components of Goma-2 Eco except for DNT, which is found generally in the earlier version of the same explosive, Goma-2 Ec. However, one curious result of the tests has been that the same DNT was found to be present in the master samples of the explosive that were provided by the manufacturer for comparison purposes; so whilst it may not be a recognised component it does seem possible for traces of it to be present.

The key issue here is that the components found in the master sample of Goma-2 Eco are consistent with those traces of explosive recovered from sites linked to the attacks, and to substances found in those sites where no actual explosive was recovered. The reason why this matters is because the conspiracy theorists are clinging to the presence of DNT as evidence that a different explosive was used in the bombings, it’s the only thing they have left. For the conspiracy theorists what matters is that there a exists a document somewhere in the world that says it is impossible for this substance to be found in Goma-2 Eco. Whilst that is the case, it doesn’t matter to them that scientific test results on that same explosive show a different result.

The tests have not yet been fully completed, the court also ordered tests against samples of Titadine, but if you take the test results in isolation then any reasonable assessment would say that it is very likely that the explosive used was Goma-2 Eco. If you assess these results together with the other evidence available then there are simply no grounds for thinking that any other explosive was used. The “faith based reasoners” will not accept this because it points towards conclusions they find unacceptable, but there is currently no single credible fact pointing to the use of any other explosive in the train attacks.

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