Such a test would have told these idiots what every bomb-disposal operator and Hollywood effects guy already knows: that petrol, gas etc make for an excellent, photogenic fireball which you can normally be quite close to without ill effects. Too much real, killer, shrapnel-throwing blast will actually prevent a fireball effect, if you're interested (When putting on shows for people, we used to use a quarter-stick of plastic explosive taped to a bottle of petrol. Any more bang than that, and you don't get a fireball. The petrol just vapourises harmlessly).
There are ways to get a killer blast out of nothing more than fuel and air, but you need a lot more air than there is inside a car for a decent bang and you need to mix the two ingredients thoroughly and in the right proportions. Even flour, well stirred up into a cloud in a closed bin which is partly empty, can form an effective explosive mixture. Domestic gas which has been allowed to spread and mix with air in a confined space such as a house or a boat can flatten buildings.
If you're very technically skilled, you can produce a fuel-air explosion without a confining container. Various kinds of "bunker-buster" weapons do this, spreading liquid fuel using a bursting charge to form a fairly-precisely-blended volume of fuel-air mix almost instantly and then touching it off with another flash. But an effective mid-air fuel bang is just for proper weapons factories, really. Even they tend to have a significant dud rate.
We used to be constantly disappointed, on the bomb teams, at the consistently rubbish efforts of the ordinary bomber. Many people seem to think that any kind of fire or loud noise will become deadly if you add nails. Your correspondent was once called out to a scene where a teenage cretin, finding that batteries would go pop if heated in a fire, taped nails around D-cells and put them on a camping cooker. Terrifyingly, some of the nails flew as much as two or three feet when this infernal device reaped its deadly harvest.
Similarly, having been trained to meet the threat from competent terrorists like the Provisional IRA (PIRA), we would then have to be re-trained out of our paranoia in order to deal with ordinary idiots like the animal-lib crowd. A typical animal-libber bomb in the old days, for instance, might consist of a bottle of deadly petrol with a petrol-soaked sponge taped to it and a pair of burning joss-sticks stuck in the sponge.
Full of worry about PIRA, young bomb techs faced with such a device during exams would often faff about for ages with robots and bomb armour and disruptors, whereas the correct response is to slip on some fireproofs, quickly trot down the road and remove the joss sticks. It's technical stuff, you know, bomb disposal.
If these guys at the weekend really were anything to do with al-Qaeda, all one can really say is that it looks as though the War on Terror is won. This whole hoo-ha kicked off, remember, with 9/11: an extremely effective attack. Then we had the Bali and Madrid bombings, not by any measure as shocking and bloody but still nasty stuff. Then we had London 7/7, a further significant drop in bodycount but still competently planned and executed (Not too many groups would have been able to mix up that much peroxide-based explosive first try without an own goal).
Now we have this; one terror-clown badly burnt and nobody else hurt at all. An event about as significant as the teenagers burning cars down my way - and don't I wish those little sods got as much police attention and jail time. The jihadi threat has seemingly sunk to animal-lib levels.
Why, it's almost as if suicide bombing was a fairly dumb tactic. The 7/7 bombers seem to have been one of very few terror groups in the UK who were competent enough to make explosives and weren't under plod/spook surveillance, and now they're all dead.
Remember, this country carried on successfully for six years with hundreds - thousands, sometimes - of tons of explosives raining down on it every night for six years, delivered by very competent Germans who often died doing that job. The civilian death toll was around 60,000 according to most sources; the equivalent of 20 9/11s, more than three for every year of the war. Civilisation was not brought down. Germany and Japan withstood even greater violence, and survived it too.
Our parents and grandparents stood that kind of punishment, not to mention four times as many military dead, and got on with life. Sad though it is to confirm the oldsters' world view, by comparison our generation - our generation's journalists, anyway - seem a bit lacking in backbone. If all we have to put up with is an occasional 7/7, that's background noise by comparison - it should merit the same sort of headlines, the same political response as motorway pileups or airline crashes.
And if all we have to deal with is clusterfucks like the one just past, it should merit the same headlines and response as my local youths; essentially none (Maybe some sort of special cop/spook taskforce with sweeping unconstitutional powers to hand out clips round the ear. Yes yes, I know, there'd be some kind of legal problem).
Move along; nothing to see here. ®
Lewis Page was an armed forces bomb-disposal operator tasked in support of the UK mainland police from 2001 to 2004. He's just bitter because only the crappiest bombers ever operated on his patch - even worse than these ones, usually - and he had to content himself with clearing up old German stuff.