Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 395, Issue 2, pp 421–428

Urea nitrate, an exceptionally easy-to-make improvised explosive: studies towards trace characterization


  • Tsippy Tamiri
    • Division of Identification and Forensic Science (DIFS)Israel Police National HQ
  • Rinat Rozin
    • Casali Institute of Applied ChemistryThe Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Nitay Lemberger
    • Casali Institute of Applied ChemistryThe Hebrew University of Jerusalem
    • Casali Institute of Applied ChemistryThe Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00216-009-2882-x

Cite this article as:
Tamiri, T., Rozin, R., Lemberger, N. et al. Anal Bioanal Chem (2009) 395: 421. doi:10.1007/s00216-009-2882-x


Urea nitrate is a powerful improvised explosive, frequently used by terrorists in the Israeli arena. It was also used in the first World Trade Center bombing in New York in February 1993. It is difficult to identify urea nitrate in post-explosion debris, since only a very small fraction survives the blast. Also, in the presence of water, it readily decomposes to its original components, urea and nitric acid. It is suspected that post-blast debris of urea nitrate can be confused with ammonium nitrate, the main solid product of urea nitrate thermal decomposition. In a comprehensive study towards identification of urea nitrate in post-blast traces, a spectrophotometric technique for quantitative determination of urea nitrate was developed, and conditions were found for extraction and separation of un-exploded traces of urea nitrate with minimal decomposition. Nevertheless, out of 28 samples collected from a series of three controlled firings of urea nitrate charges, only one gave the typical adduct ion by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis. We found that urea nitrate can be extracted from solid mixtures to organic solvents by using Crown ethers as “host compounds.” The adducts thus formed are solid, crystalline compounds that can be characterized by microanalysis and spectroscopic techniques.

Adduct formation between urea nitrate and 18-crown-6


ForensicsImprovised explosivesPost-blastUrea nitrateLC/MSCrown ethers

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009