Law Enforcement Concerned About "Exploding Target" Compounds

FBI last month warned that products like Tannerite could be used in homemade bombs

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A March intelligence briefing by the FBI warned that "recreationally used exploding targets ... can be used by criminals and extremists." Rob Stafford reports. (Published Thursday, May 2, 2013)

    Legal explosives, readily available at many well know stores throughout Illinois and Indiana, have recently drawn the concern of some in law enforcement, including the FBI, an NBC Chicago investigation has found.

    Sold under the brand name Tannerite, the explosive is composed of two separate ingredients: ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder. The two powders separately are inert, but mixed together and detonated by a high-velocity firearm cartridge or blasting cap and they become a very powerful compound.

    They're primarily used by gun enthusiasts and law enforcement agencies as a target for firearm practice.

    In the United States, it is legal to purchase Tannerite because neither ingredient is considered an explosive by itself. Only one state -- Maryland -- has banned the sale and ownership of Tannerite, and that law only went into effect in October of last year.

    NBC Chicago staffers were able to purchase 20 pounds of Tannerite without a background check from a sporting goods store in suburban LaSalle.

    "Twenty pounds could blow up a car very nicely," said Lt. Steve Trame, the bomb squad commander for the University of Illinois and Champaign police departments. "If you are using this improperly, it is deadly and dangerous."

    An Internet search for Tannerite results in several YouTube videos that show people using 20 pounds of the product to blow up a trailer, washing machine and even a car.

    "It’s sort of like letting the genie out of the bottle," said Trame. "They don’t realize the power that they have."

    Tannerite’s dangerous potential recently caught the eye of the FBI. An intelligence briefing released just last month warned that "recreationally used exploding targets (ETs)…can be used by criminals and extremists and explosive precursor chemicals (EPCs) present in ET’s can be combined with other materials to manufacture explosives for use in improvised explosive devices (IEDS)."

    A spokesman for the Pleasant Hill, Ore., company that makes Tannerite said the company is registered with Homeland Security and the FBI. He added that if any suspicious person tried to buy large quantities, the company would immediately contact federal authorities immediately.