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Military Base Likely Source of Explosives at a Cemetery

October 13, 2010

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Military Base Likely Source of Explosives at a Cemetery

imageThe mysterious military-grade explosives that were found in an East Village cemetery over the weekend are more than a dozen years old and were most likely stolen from a military base, the police said Tuesday.

Bomb experts with the New York Police Department found that the eight bricks of C-4 explosive, totaling about 10 pounds, lacked identifying markers known as taggants, which manufacturers were required to include in the puttylike compound beginning in 1997, said Paul J. Browne, the department?s chief spokesman.

These taggants were added to help the authorities trace the material even after an explosion. The explosives have been positively identified as M112 blocks, which were manufactured exclusively for the military. The military occasionally provides the explosives to police bomb squads.

Mr. Browne said that the department sometimes uses C-4 to destroy ordnance that turns up. But he said that none of the department?s C-4 inventory was missing.

The police said they had no suspects in the case and did not know how long the explosives had lain buried. A caretaker at the New York City Marble Cemetery, which is not normally open to the public, discovered the explosives while planting a shrub in a foot of dirt in May or June of last year. They were contained in a decaying black garbage bag. But not knowing what they were, the caretaker placed them against a tree and forgot about them. They remained there until Sunday, when a volunteer came across the bag. He called the police on Monday. There were no primers or ignition devices, which would be needed to cause a blast.

C-4 has an indefinite shelf life and is known for its stability and durability under a range of conditions.

Though the military has tightened its inventory control over the years, thefts of explosives from bases remain a concern. Last November, federal agents arrested a Special Forces sergeant outside Fort Campbell, Ky., with 100 pounds of C-4.

?We get a lot of this stuff around the country from time to time,? said James M. Cavanaugh, the former special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Nashville. ?Manhattan is different; we don?t usually notice military ordnance there.?

The amount of explosives found was not enough to demolish a building, but it could have caused a ?devastating blast? if set off in a crowded market or subway train, Mr. Cavanaugh said.