2006 water-borne bomb, 2007 explosives theft underscores threat to U.S. bridges

18 June 2007: It was 11 months ago when officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were investigating an incident in which a large pipe bomb was found floating in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, just north of the city of New Orleans. The device was examined, found to be an improvised explosive device (IED), and was destroyed by authorities in a controlled detonation while it remained on the water. Although the device itself was not large enough to effectively damage a structure such as a bridge, officials launched an aggressive investigation in an effort to learn who built the explosive device and where the materials were obtained. To date, that incident continues to lack answers.

Counter-terrorism officials, meanwhile, continue to be concerned over domestic terrorism against our nation’s infrastructure - especially the bridges that span the Mississippi River carrying rail traffic. As the U.S. relies heavily on freight carried by train, any significant disruption of rail traffic at strategic locations, especially those bridges carrying fright across the Mississippi River, could have major consequences to our country’s economy.

The floating IED in Lake Pontchartrain discovered last summer had certain characteristics of a test of sorts – a test of methods that could well have been taken directly from al Qaeda training manuals, of bombs used against such structures.

Nearly a year later - last Tuesday - June 12, 2007, an FBI official discovered that a large amount of explosives was stolen from the St. Charles County, Missouri Sheriff Department’s training facility and firing range - enough explosives, according to authorities, “to blow up a bridge.”

ATF investigators and officials from the FBI, St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department and the Joint Terrorism Task Force spent last Tuesday at the facility in the Weldon Spring area investigating the theft from the explosives bunker of materials that belonged to the FBI and the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department.

Items verified as stolen include various explosives including C-4, several sticks of dynamite, fuses, and igniters - totaling at least several pounds. The theft is believed to have taken place sometime between June 1 and June 12, 2007. All of the stolen items were described as “commercially manufactured, highly explosive and highly sensitive.”