"Devil's Mother" explosive used by terrorists caused Groningen apartment blast

Hague police officer
A police officer in The Hague. Sept. 11, 2015DutchlightDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

A May 1 explosion in an apartment in Groningen was caused by triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, a primary explosive used both by burglars who attempted to blow open ATMs, and also by terrorists in several attacks, prosecutors said on Monday. The two people present in the apartment were arrested shortly after the explosion, a 27-year-old Groningen man was taken into custody days later, and a 53-year-old from Veendam was later identified as a suspect. The latter was not in custody, and prosecutors stated Monday that one of the three suspects held was later released by the court handling the case.

TATP is colloquially known as "The Devil's Mother," and is considered a relatively easy explosive to produce due to the availability of the chemicals involved in manufacturing it. The Public Prosecution Service (OM) confirmed that they suspect the three of making TATP either on behalf of those attempting the cash machine burglaries, or with the intent of stealing money from the machines themselves. The chemical explosive can be easily detonated several ways, the OM said.

"About 400 grams of the explosive substance triacetone triperoxide (TATP) has been found in the home. This explosive is very unstable: heat, friction, shock or static electricity can inadvertently detonate it. In addition, approximately 900 grams of ammonium nitrate were found in the home," the OM stated.

The suspects in the case were identified as the 27-year-old apartment resident, a 20-year-old woman who was with him in the home, and their 27-year-old mutual acquaintance. The young woman denied any knowledge of the dangerous substances in the home, and was released on May 20 in a decision which prosecutors later appealed. The appellate decision went against the prosecution.

Prosecutors said they suspect the resident and the woman of triggering the explosion, preparing bombing materials, plotting to use the bombs they made, and possession of explosives. The man who was later arrested was only suspected of plotting to use the explosives. The Veendam suspect was identified as the man who supplied the raw materials used in the production of TATP, the OM said.

Two people were injured in the blast on Wibenaheerd in the Beijum-Oost neighborhood at about 7:30 p.m. on May 1, which forced authorities to evacuate several homes in the complex. About fifty people were at least temporarily displaced as a result of the explosion.

Initially, investigators thought that a faulty natural gas connection was the cause of the incident which blew out the first-floor apartment's facade, destroyed several interior walls, and made four apartments uninhabitable. However, officers returned to the scene the following day after receiving a tip that something was amiss.

“An explosive substance was in fact found in the home,” police said at the time. The neighborhood was immediately evacuated that Saturday for the second day in a row once officers found the unstable chemical.

While the two residents were kept in custody, a third suspect was arrested four days later. The three were kept isolated from all personal contact, and were only allowed time to meet with their legal representation. The OM said on Monday that emergency services personnel and the construction crew brought in to assist immediately after the explosion were also pressing a case against the suspects for "putting them in a life-threatening situation by not saying anything about the presence of explosive substances," the OM said.

The chemical TATP was also used in the explosive bomb belts used during the assault on Paris in November 2015, the Brussels bombings in March 2016, the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017, and multiple incidents in Sri Lanka last April, the Telegraaf reported.

"There are no indications of the preparation of a terrorist attack," the OM said. The OM noted the presence of several tools often used by burglars to jam explosives through an ATM's cash dispenser slot.

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