What is PETN explosive that was found in UP Assembly?

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A packet containing white powder, which was later identified to be explosive, was found inside the Uttar Pradesh Assembly on 13th july 2017.

Uttar Pradesh Assembly has unanimously decided to handover investigation of recovery of explosives in the house, to National Investigation Agency NIA. As soon as house assembled for today’s business, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath informed the house that about 100 gram white colour powder was found on Wednesday near Opposition leader’s seat in the House.

The material has been examined by forensic laboratory and identified as highly explosive PETN. Expressing his concern over lapse on Security, Mr. Yogi urged the Speaker Hridaynarayan Dixit to take steps to tighten the security of the legislature premises and handover the probe of the incident to the NIA.

He termed the incident a terrorist act and said that some are conspiring against the State and the country.

Responding to the Chief Minister’s request, the speaker announced various security measures and urged all members to cooperate with security personnel. He also requested the members not to bring their mobile phones inside the house.

What is PETN?

PETN or Pentaerythritol tetranitrate is one of the most dangerous plastic explosive.

The substance is available in black market, and belongs to the same family as nitroglycerin.

It is preferred by militant groups because it cannot be easily detected owing to its colourless crystals.

Majority of explosive detectors use metal detectors, but PETN can be kept hidden in a sealed container or an electrical equipment and thus can easily surpass security checks.

According to a 2010 report by The Guardian, several countries have severe restrictions on purchase of PETN which can be bought in powder form or thin plastic sheet.

The substance is legally used by the military and in mining industries where it is used in detonators for detonating cords and mines.

PETN can be mixed with other chemicals to form Semtex.

Where has it been used before?

PETN substance has been used in number of bombing incidents over the years, some of which did not come to fruition.

In 1983, Carlos the Jackal used PETN device in 1983 for the attack in Maison de France, the French cultural center in Berlin.

In 2001, “shoe bomber”, Richard Reid tried to blew off an American Airlines plane on its way to Miami. Reid tried to set the explosive on fire but failed to do so.

In 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to set off PETN explosive hidden in his underpants in a failed attack on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit.

In 2010, Abdullah Hassan Al-Asiri tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s deputy interior minister with a PETN-bomb hidden inside his body.

It was also used in 2009 Christmas bombing plot in 2009, and in 2010 cargo plane bomb plot in London and Dubai-a report from Economic Times

Apart from reports of PETN explosives from all around the world, the substance is believed to have been used in 2011 Delhi High Court blast, in which at least 17 people lost their lives.

How can PETN be detected?

Some airport security officials are employing addition security check methods that “sniffs” passengers, according to a report by The Guardian.

The report says that some airports also analyses swabs of clothing and personal belongings of passengers, in order to trace the small residue of explosives on a person who has handled the substance. But the method does not guarantee a person carrying PETN will be detected, the report says.

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