By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
On 5 March 2019, an Adelaide boy was charged for the offence of possessing an explosive substance after he allegedly hopped on board a public bus armed with a pipe bomb (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-11/teenager-accused-of-taking-pipe-bomb-on-bus-pleads-guilty/10992722).
The 16-year-old teenager first came to the attention of authorities after a report was made to police which indicated that the boy intended to self-harm.
This led officers to review CCTV footage on a bus allegedly showing the teen on board with a pipe bomb, travelling along a southern suburbs route.
Police say the explosives were not detonated by the boy and no-one was harmed.
The boy was charged with nine offences including taking steps to manufacture an explosive and endangering life.
He pleaded guilty in the Adelaide Youth Court to three charges including possessing an explosive substance, however denied that of endangering life – a charge which he is planning to contest.
It is alleged police also discovered other devices during a search carried out where the teenager was residing.
The boy has since been remanded in custody and is to face court again in May.
Boy will Plead Not Guilty to Endangering Life
Stephen Ey, for the boy, advised his client would plead not guilty (https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/law-order/teen-who-allegedly-took-a-pipe-bomb-on-an-adelaide-bus-admits-making-explosives/news-story/80c5b2d7a6280b98485f52101a2d9467) to endangering life.
He said the boy would plead guilty to two of the manufacturing counts, and one of the substance counts, claiming that would resolve the matter.
Meanwhile, South Australia Police said they were not prepared to accept the pleas and requested the case be listed for trial.
This was agreed by Magistrate Luke Davis, however he also urged the parties to endeavour towards a resolution.
“He’s in custody, he’s pleaded guilty to some of the charges,” he said.
“I would expect negotiations to be robust, given he’s a youth with no prior history.”
What is a Pipe Bomb?
A pipe bomb is an improvised explosive device that is made by putting explosive material in a tightly sealed section of pipe.
The pipe bomb uses the pressure of the pipe to amplify the power of the explosive materials within.
Put simply, because the pipe keeps an explosion contained until it reaches a much greater pressure than it would in open air, a simple pipe filled with gunpowder or even matchstick heads has the ability to create a devastating explosion.
How Does a Pipe Bomb Work?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (https://www.ajc.com/news/national/what-pipe-bomb-and-what-damage-can/VvTOp68jQsDRlVDI1m2wQP/) reports that a pipe bomb does not require a high-level explosive to be lethal. Even a low-level explosive can result in tremendous damage.
Essentially, a pipe bomb is a bomb that is encased in pipe and a fuse is inserted into that pipe. A lead wire to the fuse comes out through the capped end or through a hole that can be drilled into the side of the pipe. Commonly, the fuse is connected to a timer or battery.
When the material inside detonates, the pressure results in the pipe fragmenting, and this in turn creates shrapnel.
Due to the construction of a pipe bomb, its destruction can be very powerful. The explosive material in the device is under great pressure. A pipe bomb can also include other material such as nails and glass that has the potential to cause even more damage.
Worryingly, pipe bombs are simple and cheap to make given their components are available at any hardware shop.
With information on bomb construction easily found on the Internet and in many bookshops, this type of weapon has become one of the main tools of terrorists and criminals around the world.
The Pipe Bomb: “A Modern Terrorist Weapon”
With the use of pipe bombs rising dramatically, the bomb construction has been considered “a modern terrorist weapon” (https://jramc.bmj.com/content/jramc/149/1/23.full.pdf).
In fact, in the United States, pipe bombs have become one of the most popular “tools of terror” and are particularly favoured by white supremacists and far-right political extremists.
Between 1980 and 1990 there were 12,216 bombing incidents in the United States, the majority involving pipe bomb devices. The Oklahoma bombing in 1995, leading to 167 deaths, was caused by a massive pipe bomb.
Meanwhile, the explosion at the Atlanta Games in 1996 involved a much smaller device but still caused one fatality and more than 100 casualties.
Both incidents gained tremendous media publicity, a key aim of terrorist attacks.
In the past decade, the exponential increase in pipe bombings around the world indicates the ease of manufacture of this type of bomb.
The pipe bomb is proving to be a cheap and deadly modern terrorist weapon.
What are the Penalties for Possessing, Supplying or Making Explosives in NSW? (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/criminal-law/offences/firearms-and-weapons-offences/make-or-supply-explosive/)
In NSW, it is an offence to possess, supply or make an explosive. This offence is treated very seriously by the courts.
Anyone found guilty to be in possession of an explosive in a public place will face a maximum penalty of up to 5-years imprisonment. (section 93FA(1) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40/part3a/div2/sec93fa)).
Further to this, there is a maximum penalty of up to 3-years imprisonment and/or $5,500 fine for possessing, supplying or making an explosive in a situation that a raises a reasonable suspicion that it wasn’t done for a lawful purpose (section 93FA(2) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ca190082/s93fa.html)).
It is a defence to this charge if the person charged did this for a reasonable excuse or lawful purpose under section 93FA(4) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
A public place is any area that is open to the public – for example, parks, shopping centres, beaches.
Examples of possible lawful purposes include where you were in the possession of the explosive for work purposes, such as a demolition, for festivities such as a cultural celebration, a sporting event, scientific research.
What are the Penalties for Possessing, Making or Manufacturing an Explosive Substance to Cause Harm in NSW?
Section 55 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40/part3/div7) imposes a maximum penalty of up to 10-years imprisonment for knowingly possessing, making, or manufacturing gunpowder, explosive substance, or dangerous or noxious thing, machine, engine or instrument if:
- It is done with the intention of injuring or committing any criminal offence that carries a maximum penalty of at least 5-years imprisonment to it; or
- It is done to enable someone else to do any such thing.
What are the Penalties for Placing an Explosive near or in a Building, Vehicle or Public Place in NSW?
In addition to the above crimes, the Courts can impose a maximum penalty of up to 14-years imprisonment to any person who causes an explosive to be placed near or in a building, vehicle, vessel, train or other conveyance or public place if that person did so with the intention of causing bodily harm to any person. (section 48(1) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40/part3/div6/sec48)).
What is an Explosive?
An explosive is defined under clause 4 of the Explosives Regulation 2013 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/regulation/2013/476/part1/sec4), and includes an article or substance, when manufactures or missed or assembled, could cause an explosive or pyrotechnic effect.
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