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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Plastic explosive clue in Bali bombing
The site of the Kuta bombing
Investigators have a huge task sifting through the ruins
Indonesian police investigating the devastating bombing of a nightclub on the island of Bali have found traces of plastic explosive at the site of the attack.

The discovery of the explosives suggests a sophisticated bombing operation.

Forensic process
Identify components of explosive
Take swabs from suspects, clothing and other sites
Test for matches with explosive
Trace manufacturer through analysis of components in residue

Police say C4 explosive was used - a type manufactured mainly in the United States and used widely by military forces around the world.

This has prompted speculation that if Islamic militants carried out the bombing, they may have had some help from elements in the Indonesian military which have been involved with resurgent radical Islamic groups since the fall of General Suharto in 1998.

Indonesian police spokesman Brigadier-General Saleh Saaf said: "We have together with experts from the FBI processed the data jointly and we are now really certain that C4 explosive was used".

USS Cole bombing

The explosive and method used bear similarities to an August 2000 bombing in Jakarta which seriously injured the Philippine ambassador. Philippine intelligence officials blamed the radical Islamic network Jemaah Islamiah for that attack.

Police investigation
The police are searching the site for clues

But C4 was also used in the bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen two years ago - an attack attributed to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Police are questioning two men in connection with the bombing in the resort of Kuta on Saturday.

Indonesian police chief Da'i Bachtiar said the identity card of one of the men was found close to the bomb site.

So far, the man has refused to say anything since being picked up.

But the discovery of traces of plastic explosive could be a vital clue to who was responsible.

Any suspects, their clothing and their homes or workplaces can be checked for matching materials.

Swabs, using a solvent, would be taken from skin, clothes and other materials.

However, experts warn that traces of substances can be passed from one person to another and are not in themselves indisputable evidence of someone's involvement in a bombing.

Available 'at a price'

French news agency AFP quoted a British manufacturer of C4, Mark Ribband, as saying that it is a white substance that resembles uncooked pastry and needs a detonator to make it explode.

Kuta bomb scene
A large area was devastated by the blast
Mr Ribband said that it is "a standard issue, military explosive", the trade in which is controlled carefully.

"It's considerably more controlled than heroin, but if you want to buy heroin you can," he was quoted as saying.

"Like all things, everything's available for a price," Mr Ribband said.

C4 was widely used by US forces in the Vietnam war, and like semtex it is hard to detect and easy to hide. It is stable, and therefore safe to handle.

Experts from the US, Australia, France and Japan are helping the Indonesian police with their investigations.

Laborious task

Brian Caddy, Emeritus Professor of Forensic Science at Strathclyde University in Scotland, says that once the component substances in an explosive have been identified, it might be possible to trace the manufacturer.

Governments have lists of explosive makers and would be able to check with them the make up of their products.

If that process is completed, then there would be a more lengthy and laborious task of trying to track sales and distribution or even thefts of an identified explosive.

The success of that search would depend on the accuracy of company records.

As well as gaining clues from the type of explosive used, the discovery of any parts of a timing, detonation or firing mechanism would boost the investigation.

'Lacking experience'

Professor Caddy believes that although Indonesia is developing its own forensic capabilities - they recently opened a new laboratory in Jakarta - they lack the experience of Western scientists in this field.

Britain has well-developed facilities - such as the Forensic Explosives Laboratory at Fort Halstead in Kent and the laboratory in Northern Ireland which works to the government's Northern Ireland Office.

Forensic experts use any materials found at the scene of a bomb attack to compare the explosives and mechanisms with those used in other such attacks.

This enables them to see if there are any common substances or methods of construction which could give clues to the identity of the bombers.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticus
"The hunt is on for clues"
Paul Adams reports from Bali
"C4 is a popular terrorist weapon"

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