Thursday, October 6, 2005

Not more than 100 yards from the Oklahoma-Kansas State football game on Saturday, OU student Joel Henry Hinrichs III, 21, blew himself up in what was initially believed to be a simple suicide. While his decision to kill himself seemed to match a personality friends and family describe as detached and strange, disturbing facts are beginning to emerge suggesting that Mr. Hinrichs had more sinister designs, like perhaps taking a few of the 84,000 nearby fans with him.

Despite the absence of a suicide note, there is little doubt the troubled student intended to kill himself. His bizarre method, however, is more reminiscent of suicide bombers than suicidal students. For instance, at least one of the bomb components he used — triacetone triperoxide — was the same homemade substance used by Richard Reid, the so-called Shoe Bomber. The stuff is highly unstable. It can detonate if merely dropped, and experts say it can even explode spontaneously.

The obvious questions arise: Why would someone choose to kill himself with this stuff, nicknamed the “Mother of Satan” by Islamists, if suicide were his sole purpose? Did Mr. Hinrichs intend for the bombs to go off when they did, so close to a packed stadium? Also, why carry it out as if in imitation of a suicide bomber? Suicidal people of Mr. Hinrichs’ age, it is true, have a tendency for the dramatic, and perhaps that was Mr. Hinrichs’ only purpose here — to go out in such a way as to be remembered. But that still leaves open the question as to how he learned to make bombs in the first place.

A few days before, Mr. Hinrichs tried to purchase ammonium nitrate — the explosive substance used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 — from a local fertilizer store. Because of federal regulations, the store had stopped carrying ammonium nitrate, but the request was odd enough for the store owner to remember Mr. Hinrichs when questioned by authorities. Even more frightening, federal officials confirmed that a large cache of explosive material was found inside Mr. Hinrichs’ university-owned apartment in Norman, Okla., which immediately placed suspicion on Mr. Hinrichs’ roommate, a Pakistani Muslim, who was taken into FBI custody for questioning. He, along with two other unidentified Muslim students, were later released.

Norman itself is no stranger to Islamist activity. In 2000, Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, took flying lessons at the city’s flight school and attended a neighborhood mosque, which, according to, is the same mosque that Mr. Hinrichs had been attending. There is some doubt about whether Mr. Hinrichs himself was a Muslim, though.

The FBI says that it has still no reason to believe Mr. Hinrichs was involved in a larger terrorist plot. Similarly, it has no information that suggests there is any additional threat to the OU-area. But in light of these frightening facts, the FBI mustn’t rule anything out.

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