ATF agent: Chemicals in Waseca case dangerous

  • Associated Press
  • May 17, 2014 - 5:39 PM

WASECA, Minn. — Chemicals found in a Waseca self-storage shed last month created an extremely dangerous situation regardless of whether a teenager accused of making explosives there was ever going to carry out an alleged plot to kill his family then attack his school, a federal law enforcement official said.

Scott Sweetow, special agent in charge of the Minnesota field offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told The Free Press of Mankato ( ) that potassium perchlorate and some form of powdered metal are commonly mixed to make flash powder for illegal fireworks or explosives.

"I've been doing this for a long time," Sweetow told the newspaper for a story published Saturday. "When we run across these people with one or more of these chemicals, it's often a clandestine explosives operation or clandestine drug operation."

The 17-year-old suspect allegedly told investigators he was making explosives that he planned to detonate at Waseca Junior-Senior High School. He has pleaded not guilty in juvenile court to charges of attempted murder, possession of explosives and attempted criminal damage to property. Prosecutors are seeking to try him as an adult.

The ATF has been providing support to Waseca investigators since potassium perchlorate, aluminum powder, red iron oxide and smokeless gunpowder were found in the rented storage shed April 29. The teen was arrested after two women living nearby called 911 to report a suspicious person entering the shed.

All three chemicals can be easily ordered from a variety of websites, Sweetow said. There is no requirement to verify the person ordering them is an adult.

People selling the chemicals point out that many legitimate uses exist, he said. A few businesses likely know they're selling the chemicals to people using them for illegal reasons but they're good at staying under the ATF's radar, he said.

Authorities have said a 10-pound package of red iron oxide was found in the shed, along with three 5-pound bags of potassium perchlorate, and seven bags containing a combined 10 pounds of aluminum powder. Investigators also found plastic pipes and caps, potential metal shrapnel and a pressure cooker.

Those items, when used with flash powder and smokeless powder, can be used to make deadly bombs, Sweetow said.

"Because of the power of the Internet, a lot of information that was only available to a select few professionals is now available to everyone," Sweetow said.

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