Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers Limited Sunday Times (London)
September 3, 2000, Sunday
SECTION: Home news
LENGTH: 578 words
HEADLINE: Hidden bombs spark hunt for lone terrorist
BYLINE: James Clark Home Affairs Correspondent
POLICE investigating two high-tech bomb caches fear they could be hunting a British version of the American Unabomber.
Explosives experts say the devices, found in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, are the most sophisticated "home-made" bombs discovered on British soil.
Their design is more advanced than any used by the IRA. Officers fear the skills in electronics and explosives needed to manufacture the units and the booby-trap systems attached to them, intended to kill bomb disposal experts, mean they are dealing with a bomber never encountered before. They also cannot be sure of the intended targets.
Police have a list of 17 possibilities for the types of group that could be responsible for the deadly anti-personnel devices, although senior officers believe that a lone bomber is the most likely source.
In America, Ted Kaczynski, who was known as the Unabomber, was responsible for a series of seemingly random bombings over 18 years before being jailed for life after he was turned in by his brother.
The devices found in Britain have been studied by MI5, whose bomb experts describe them as having been made with "loving care" and "by a new and original mind".
Acting Superintendent Euan Reid, who is leading the investigation by Thames Valley police, said: "These must have taken weeks of determined, focused expertise to make. We are thankful they did not explode. They were designed to shred everything around them.
"The man who built these is clearly a perfectionist, is clearly very proud of them and is certainly very intelligent."
Forensic explosives experts from MI5, which has been consulted by police but is not involved in the investigation, said the bombs are almost certainly not related to Irish terrorism.
The eight anti-personnel devices were made up of tightly packed explosives, complex electronics, and large numbers of steel nuts. They were packed into plastic water bottles and included "trembler" mechanisms to set off the detonators if they were moved.
The bombs were designed to have a devastating effect within a 50ft radius, spraying the nuts in the same way as a military fragmentation grenade. The result would have been even more deadly if they were used indoors in a crowded environment such as a pub. The explosive used has not yet been identified.
They were found freshly buried in an Oxfordshire wood last weekend by a man walking his dog. The first device, discovered on a stone wall at a farm 30 miles away in Gloucestershire the previous Sunday, was possibly a test unit.
Officers from both counties, as well as anti-terrorist detectives from Scotland Yard, are taking part in the hunt.
They are working with the Ministry of Defence and companies which use explosives to see if any former soldiers or members of staff could be suspects. They are convinced that it would have taken professional expertise - and sophisticated tools - to assemble the bombs.
Detectives are preparing a psychological profile of the would-be bomber which they hope will go some way towards explaining why the devices were left where they were and what the intended targets may have been.
"Motive is the hardest thing to establish," said one detective on the team. "We could be looking at a new terror group with similar political intentions to an established group, or we might be facing a lone bomber. Whoever it is, they are very capable and that is the most worrying thing."