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How Do Law Enforcement Officers Investigate Bomb Explosions?

“It’s the make, it’s the model, it’s the details and how that bomb is packaged,” says Texas Standard investigative reporter Alain Stephens.

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News
Members of local, state and federal law enforcement including the FBI, ATF and Department of Homeland Security hold a press conference near the scene of the third fatal package explosion in East Austin.

Federal agents are working alongside local law enforcement to identify the bomber behind a series of explosions in Austin.

How does law enforcement investigate incidents like these? Texas Standard investigative reporter Alain Stephens says they begin with a secondary device sweep to search for a second bomb that might be intended to attack first responders.

"When a bomb goes off, it's going to take them a long time to secure the scene. They're combing and they're doing this thing called a secondary device protocol. Sources in the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] said that's their first priority is that safety."

Stephens says ATF's investigation strategy is typically to focus on the bomb.

"One of the things that they point out is something called the bomb signature," he says. "The tradecraft. It's the make, it's the model, it's the details and how that bomb is packaged."

Stephens says federal agencies have developed the Bomb Arson Tracking System to look for patterns and trends. They also examine the bomber's success rate.

"This is something that they look at to kind of create a skill profile of this bomber," he says.

Written by Jen Rice.

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