Bomb technicians from across the state took a crash course in disabling vehicle bombs Thursday, less than three miles from University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of the annual Fiesta Bowl and this season’s Super Bowl.
Bomb squad members from 10 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies practiced their own explosive techniques for disabling the car bombs. They tested their methods on five junked cars and a delivery truck that had been loaded with simulated bombs at Glendale landfill, just west of the stadium.
Most of the simulated bombs were about the size of a lunchbox, which would be capable of killing or injuring dozens of people. The biggest simulated bomb was larger than the one used by Timothy McVeigh at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people in 1995.
The FBI agents who led the course brought experience gained in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, North Ireland and other places around the world where bombs are the preferred tool of terrorists.
The FBI conducts about five anti-bomb seminars for state and local authorities around the country each year. The Super Bowl put greater emphasis on Arizona this year.
“The FBI is actively working with the state and locals on trying to keep the streets as safe as possible and learning how to defeat these bombs if they do come to the United States,” said FBI Special Agent Scott Thorlin.
The strategy involved explosives.
“What we do here — and it sounds kind of crazy — is we use a little bomb to blow up a big bomb,” Thorlin said. “There’s physics and all sorts of voodoo magic that’s involved in it.”
Some of the devices used by bomb technicians popped open the trunks or broke open windows on the suspect cars from a safe distance, techniques that allow bomb techs to gain access to the interior contents of the vehicles.
Calling a locksmith to open the doors or trunk in a car-bomb situation could have deadly results if the vehicle is booby-trapped, Thorlin said.
Other explosive devices used during the seminar were intended to pierce the vehicles and disable the simulated bombs without detonating them. Some of those explosions sent pieces of the cars skyward.
Ideally, the bomb technicians will never have to use the techniques they learned at the landfill, because authorities will intercept potential bomb-makers before they drive their vehicles to their intended destinations, Thorlin said.
“Once it’s in place, it’s too late. It’s the worst time to try to defeat it. It’s the most likely we’re not going to be able to defeat it,” he said.
The seminar was important to local authorities because any city is vulnerable to an attacker, said Mesa police Lt. Kevin Kazmaier.
“Where they make it and where it goes ‘boom’ doesn’t matter. Maybe their target is the new stadium, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to make that large vehicle bomb in Glendale,” he said.
Mesa, for example, has eight certified bomb technicians and three others training.
Thursday’s exercise marked the culmination of a weeklong course in vehicle bombs. It attracted officers from the FBI, the Air Force, the Department of Public Safety, three sheriff’s offices and four police departments.