The d-Con Bomb

Media criticism.
July 11 2002 4:08 PM

The d-Con Bomb

Are the Palestinians really lacing their suicide bombs with rat poison?

In today's New York Times, reporter Ian Fisher repeats the charge that Palestinian suicide bombers enhance their deadly devices by fortifying them with rat poison ("For Israelis Wounded in Bomb Attacks, Recovery Is a Battle").

Quoting Avraham I. Rivkind, an Israeli trauma surgeon, Fisher writes, "Some suicide bombs, [Rivkind] added, are laced with rat poison, an anticoagulant, which causes victims to bleed more."

Are Palestinians really building and detonating rat poison bombs?

Among the first to mention the poisonous weapon was the Associated Press' Jayson Keyser (Dec. 9, 2001). Suicide bombs that went off in Jerusalem earlier in the month contained a toxic substance, an anonymous Israeli government official said. Keyser added that the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot had reported that the substance was rat poison. But how deadly was the cocktail? Keyser writes that according to Yediot Ahronot, "Almost all of [the poison] was destroyed in the blast and no one was affected by it. … "

On Dec. 12, 2001, New York Times reporter Clyde Haberman followed the AP story, quoting Israeli police commissioner Shlomo Aharonishky, who said the toxic bombs hadn't caused great harm because 1) the poisons weren't that potent and 2) the energy of the blast appeared to have consumed the toxic compounds. Aharonishky described the new bomb's greatest threat as psychological but conceded the "possibility" that the poisons could have a physical effect.

On the same day, the AP reported that Hamas had taken credit for planting poisonous bombs, including the rat poison bomb. But Israel's Health Ministry also told the wire service that no bomb victim had been hurt by the chemicals—the poisons simply burned up in the blast. "It's the bombs that do the damage, not any poisons that may be in them," police spokesperson Gil Kleiman said. Toxic chemicals had been discovered at five Palestinian bombing attack sites since 1994, Kleiman told the AP, but police didn't know if the chemicals had been added to increase the bombs' deadliness or if the containers used to transport them had once contained the chemicals.

By Feb. 8, 2002, the Israeli press was knocking the d-Con story down. In "Security Forces Capture Ben-Yehuda Bombing Cell," the Jerusalem Post cited "security sources" who said that later forensic tests of remnants collected in the Jerusalem bombings showed that the samples had actually been "contaminated from rat poison the municipality had spread earlier."

Further Nexis searches revealed anecdotal reports of rat poison bombs in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, the AP, and other publications, but no authoritative police or military account has produced a chemical assay to prove the assertion.

Is the rat poison bomb an urban myth? Case unclosed. Israeli Embassy spokesperson Mark Regev says that in a late June briefing at the embassy, a senior Israeli official confirmed that the rat bombs exist and had been used a small number of times. However, Regev cites no specifics beyond the official's assertion.

Nobody would put it past Palestinian terrorists to build such a diabolical weapon—or to dirty-up a regular bomb by adding radioactive compounds if they could. But the fact that America's top publications continue to posit a d-Con bomb in the absence of any forensic proof tells us something about journalistic credulity. The rat poison bomb story is the sort of tale that newsroom cynics call "too good to check." We so want to believe that the Palestinians are stinking up their bombs with rat poison that we won't even ask for evidence.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Education
Sept. 18 2014 12:30 PM “Alt-Ac” to the Rescue? Humanities Ph.D.s are daring to enjoy their “regular” jobs, and the definition of academic success is changing. Sort of.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 18 2014 12:37 PM The Movies May Have Forgotten About Them, but Black Cowboys Are Thriving
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.