UK Tabloid Resurrects Breast Implant Bomb Threat Story

Here’s one that sounds familar; from Andy Lines at the UK Mirror:

Breast implants suicide bomb threat: Heathrow on high alert over “credible” intelligence

Heathrow Airport is on high terror alert amid fears women suicide bombers are ready to strike with ­explosives concealed in breast implants.

Security checks have been beefed up after “credible” intelligence that al-Qaeda is plotting attacks on airlines flying out of London.

One staff member said: “There are genuine fears over this.

“We have been told to pay particular attention to females who may have concealed hidden explosives in their breasts.

…Al-Qaeda’s chief bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri is understood to have developed the method of foiling airport scanners by concealing ­explosives in an implant or bodily cavity.

Note that the headline heavily infers that that the “‘credible’ evidence” refers to breast implants, but that in the main text it applies only to a general terror threat.

The spectre of implant bombs has haunted the media’s imagination since 2009; as the Daily Mail‘s David Gardner reported in October of that year:

Air travellers could face even more intrusive security checks amid fears that Al Qaeda is planning a terror campaign using suicide bombers carrying explosives hidden in their bodies.

The body bomb threat was revealed after the tactic was used in an assassination attempt on a Saudi prince.

…The body bomb method was tested for the first time by 23-year-old Al Qaeda militant Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, who got through several security checks with military grade plastic explosive in his rectum and detonated them during a meeting with the Saudi anti-terrorism chief, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in August.

Abdullah al-Asiri was Ibrahim’s younger brother, and the detonation was not a great success (“the terrorist’s body absorbed much of the impact of the blast and was ripped into seventy pieces”). However, it was never actually established for sure whether the bomb had really been a suppository or had simply been sewn into his underwear.

Specific fears about a “breast implant bomb” followed in early 2010, as I discussed here and here; the idea appeared as a speculation in Forbes, developed into full-blown scare stories in the Daily Mail and WorldNetDaily, was then passed back to the Sun, and then went global.

So far as I can see, no actual implant bomb attacks followed, but the idea was later dusted off by Mark Hosenball of Reuters in May 2012:

Western authorities fear militants will carry implanted bombs

(Reuters) – U.S. and allied officials said they are increasingly concerned that doctors working with al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate will implant bombs inside living militants in order to try to circumvent airport security measures and bring down aircraft.

Earlier this year, a missile fired by a CIA-operated drone killed a Yemeni doctor who had devised medical procedures which could be used to surgically plant explosive devices in humans, several U.S. officials told Reuters.

…three U.S. officials said counter-terrorism agencies report that other doctors in Yemen are prepared to surgically load bombs into the organs of militants.

Two weeks later, David Leppard and Dipesh Gadher followed up in the Sunday Times, this time specifically referencing breast bombs again:

Al-Qaeda implants bombs in humans

WESTERN intelligence agencies believe doctors working with Al-Qaeda in Yemen have been trained to plant explosives inside the bodies of suicide bombers.

The medics can place explosive compounds in the abdomens and breasts of suicide bombers to evade airport security and bring down passenger aircraft.

A doctor who had devised procedures to plant explosives inside terrorists was killed by a CIA drone earlier this year. He is believed to have worked with Ibrahim al-Asiri, the top bomb maker of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Intelligence officials believe a small number of other doctors are working with Asiri. The CIA wants to identify and hunt them down. “This is a transferable skill and there is still some concern,” said a western security official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

What the Reuters headline reported as a fear by “authorities” for the future has now become something that is already happening. Details about the unnamed doctor killed by the CIA drone appear to be non-existent, by the way.

The new Mirror article – which has now been picked up by other sources, including the Telegraph - is little more than a rehash of the wild speculations that were being bandied around in 2010. As was the case with the media at that time, and again in 2012, the Mirror gives no example of a “breast bomb” ever having been attempted, or any evidence that Ibrahim al-Asiri or anyone else has been working on such a thing.

Staff members at Heathrow may indeed have been told “to pay particular attention” to the possibility of a breast implant bomb as part of a more general alert (see Update 2 below), but the report gives us no reason to believe that breast bombs are any more probable now than they were three years ago.

However, lack of evidence has not deterred self-promoting experts from churning out rent-a-quotes; the Mirror continues (links added):

…Explosives expert Andy Oppenheimer said: “There is a great fear that al-Qaeda are planning on using internal devices to try and get through airport scanners.

“These explosives could be in breast implants.”

…Another specialist, who asked not to be named, said breast implant bombs could be set off by injecting another liquid.

…Independent security analyst Paul Beaver said: “There are currently deeply serious concerns over body cavities and implants of all kinds – including breast implants – being used to hide explosives…”

Nice work if you can get it.

Of course a terrorist attempting to use a breast implant bomb is within the realms of theoretical possibility (although whether such a thing is actually feasible is another matter), but nothing here gives us any reason to think that the “experts” know any more about it than the rest of us – much less the hacks looking for an easy scoop during “silly season”.

UPDATE: The story is now being further hyped; according to Kounteya Sinha at the Times of India:

Britain has credible intelligence that female suicide bombers with explosives concealed in breast implants are planning to blow up Heathrow airport.

Security agencies have found that al-Qaida’s chief bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri has developed a method to conceal explosives from airport scanners in an implant or bodily cavity. A large contingent of female suicide bombers have been recruited.

“We have been told to pay particular attention to females who may have concealed explosives in their breasts,” the airport authorities said.

The Mirror‘s unnamed “staff member” has now become “airport authorities”; the “credible intelligence” is now firmly linked to breast implants; al-Asiri’s supposed interest in developing an implant bomb, which has been public knowledge since 2009, becomes a new discovery by “security agencies”. The “large contingent of female suicide bombers” appears to be Sinha’s own contribution.

UDPATE 2: Heathrow Airport’s website has included the following notice for the past few days:

At the request of US authorities (TSA) additional security measures are being carried out by airlines flying to the USA. If you are flying to a US destination, please allow extra time for your journey.

This must be related to the global travel alert that was issued by the US Department of State on 2 August:

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.  Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.  This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.

So, there’s a heightened general risk, and Heathrow is taking extra precautions at the TSA’s advice. But there’s nothing to indicate a specific threat to flights out of Heathrow, much less one involving “breast implant bombs”.

One Response

  1. […] August, there was general heightened airport alert that led to silly headlines about “breast implant bombs”, while the 2012 London Olympics brought a “cyanide […]

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