PET detects 'Mother of Satan'

New test kit identifies peroxide-based explosives now popular with terrorists.

"Mother of Satan"--that's what bomb makers call peroxide-based explosives like triacetone triperoxide (TATP), which are easy to make and hard to detect. But a new pen-shaped detector doodad offers hope for those doing time in airport security lines.


The Peroxide Explosives Tester, or PET, by Acro is supposed to help security personnel quickly and accurately identify peroxide-based explosives, from diacetone diperoxide and hexam-methalene-triperoxidediamine to the notorious TATP, a component allegedly used by Mr. Goofy in the shoe bomb he tried to detonate on a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001.

Acro announced this month that it had licensed the explosives testing kit technology from Life Science Research Israel, a subsidiary of the Israel Institute for Biological Research.

Peroxide is what bombers from London and Madrid to Casablanca and the streets of Israel all have in common nowadays, and unfortunately we're not talking about their roots. It's also what caused the hoopla over liquid explosives in London in 2006 and subsequent banning of all carry-on bottled goods.

The chemical generally comes as an innocuous-appearing solid that looks like sugar, a class of explosive that's almost impossible to detect with dogs or conventional high-tech methods. To make matters worse, it's easy to whip up at home with ingredients available at any supermarket.

Testing with the new device sounds easy enough: Insert the sample into PET and inject the secret sauce; if it turns green-blue, dive for cover. The company says it's also disposable and nonpolluting, but there's no word on how it's expected to be applied to mass screenings.

There's already a constituency opposed to readmitting fluids to your carry-on--the people who charge $2 for a pint of water in the departure lounge.