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C-4 produced for use by the U.S. military, commercial C-4 (also produced in the United States), and C-4 (otherwise known as PE-4) from England each have their own unique properties and are not identical. The analytical techniques of time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy have been demonstrated to discriminate finite differences in different C-4 sources. Chemical, morphological structural differences, and variation in atomic concentrations are detectable and definable.
C-4 has toxic effects on humans when ingested. Within a few hours multiple generalized seizures, vomiting, and changes in mental activity occur. A strong link to central nervous dysfunction is observed. If ingested, patients may be administered a dose of active charcoal to adsorb some of the toxins, and haloperidol intramuscularly and diazepam intravenously to help the patient control seizures until it has passed. However, ingesting small amounts of C-4 is not known to cause any long-term impediment.
If C-4 is marked with a taggant, such as DMNB, it can be detected with an explosive vapor detector before it has been detonated.
A variety of methods for explosive residue analysis may be used to identify C-4. These include optical microscope examination and scanning electron microscopy for unreacted explosive, chemical spot tests, thin-layer chromatography (TLC), X-ray crystallography, and infrared spectroscopy for products of the explosive chemical reaction. Small particles of C-4 may be easily identified by mixing with thymol crystals and a few drops of sulfuric acid. The mixture will become rose colored upon addition of a small quantity of ethyl alcohol.
RDX has a high birefringence, and the other components commonly found in C-4 are generally isotropic; this makes it possible for forensic science teams to detect trace residue on fingertips of individuals who may have recently been in contact with the compound. However, positive results are highly variable and the mass of RDX can range between 1.7 and 130 ng, each analysis must be individually handled using magnifying equipment. The cross polarized light images obtained from microscopic analysis of the fingerprint are analyzed with gray-scale thresholding to improve contrast for the particles. The contrast is then inverted in order to show dark RDX particles against a light background. Relative numbers and positions of RDX particles have been measured from a series of 50 fingerprints left after a single contact impression.
Military and commercial C-4 are blended with different oils. It is possible to distinguish these sources by analyzing this oil by high-temperature gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The oil and plasticizer must be separated from the C-4 sample, typically by using a non-polar organic solvent such as pentane followed by solid phase extraction of the plasticizer on silica. This method of analysis is limited by manufacturing variation and methods of distribution.
C-4 is a member of the Composition C family of chemical explosives. Variants have different proportions and plasticisers and include composition C-2, composition C-3, and composition C-4. The original RDX based material was developed by the British during World War II, and redeveloped as Composition C when introduced to US military service. It was replaced by Composition C-2 around 1943, and later redeveloped around 1944 as Composition C-3. The toxicity of C-3 was reduced, the concentration of RDX was increased, it improved safety of usage and storage. Research on a replacement for C-3 was begun prior to 1950, but the new material, C-4, did not begin pilot production until 1956.:125 C-4, was submitted for patent as “Solid Propellant and a Process for its Preparation” March 31, 1958 by the Phillips Petroleum Company.
U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War era would sometimes use small amounts of C-4 as a fuel for heating rations as it will deflagrate unless detonated with a primary explosive. However, burning C-4 produces poisonous fumes, and soldiers are warned of the dangers of personal injury when using the plastic explosive.
Amongst field troops in Vietnam it became common knowledge that ingestion of a small amount of C-4 would produce a “high” similar to that of ethanol. Others would ingest C-4, commonly obtained from a Claymore mine, to induce temporary illness in the hope of being sent on sick leave.
Use in terrorism
Terrorist groups have used C-4 worldwide in acts of terrorism and insurgency, as well as domestic terrorism and state terrorism.
Composition C-4 is recommended in al-Qaeda’s traditional curriculum of explosives training. In October 2000, the group used C-4 to attack the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors. In 1996, Saudi Hezbollah terrorists used C-4 to blow up the Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housin