AZ terror case prompts question: How much damage can a pressure cooker bomb cause?

Posted at 10:21 PM, Jul 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-07 01:31:39-04

Details in the recently unsealed court documents in the case of an accused Tucson terrorist are providing insight to the level of damage he was allegedly hoping to cause.

Court records show Mahin Khan asked for pressure cooker bomb recipes during phone calls and emails to a known terrorist organization uncovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The same type of pressure cooker improvised explosive device (IED) was used in the Boston marathon bombings, which killed six people and injured hundreds of others in 2013.

Scientists from the southwest were called on by the FBI to assist in the Boston investigation. Led by Van Romero, of New Mexico Tech, the team tested out their own pressure cooker bomb, without revealing the chemical ingredients commonly used, to gain a better understanding about the forensic evidence.

"You always worry about copy cats. Are more and more people going to be using this?" Romero said.

In their test, the blast was felt a quarter-mile away and the damage field stretched 100 yards. The pot itself turned into razor-edged shards, and metal stuffed inside turned into bullets that were strong enough to pierce holes into the wooden barriers that the team had set up to represent potential bystanders.

“They’ll move faster than the speed of sound. These things will actually get in front of the shockwave” Romero said—meaning, you can be hit before you even hear the blast.

The findings from New Mexico Tech also helped to train first-responders on how to handle terrorist bombings.