Homemade explosives easy to buy, but take heavy toll in Vietnam

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A young Ho Chi Minh City man has not attempted to create explosives since losing his left hand when an unintended explosion took place on February 3. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Explosives are as easy to buy in Vietnam as meat, and playing with them as if they were toys has become a trend among the youths, some of whom were victims of accidents last month.

The price for playing with explosives often comes in blood and bone.

Vietnamese laws only allow fully state-owned companies to become licensed to use, trade or produce industrial explosives, but Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper uncovered that online forums have been up and operating for several years, which now have many members who gather online to discuss producing explosives and related activities.

The members said there are hundreds of combinations of chemicals that produce different explosive sounds and colors.

They mentioned more than ten destinations where such chemicals can be obtained in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, including the Kim Bien wholesale market in the southern metro's District 5.

"You just have to know how to speak, displaying a knowledge of explosives and people will sell to you right away," said one member of an online forum named Ry, regarding the supply at Kim Bien market, where explosive chemicals can be bought for VND30,000 (US$1.43) a kilogram.

Vendors said their supplies are cheaper and of better quality than those in other places, but Tuoi Tre found they never asked purchasers about their intended purpose for buying the chemicals.

The bomb-making business has gone down recently after an explosion took place in the home of a film explosives expert in HCMC last month, killing all six members of his family and five neighbors. Police found a large amount of TNT and other explosives among the ashes that had been stored illegally at the house to be used as special effects in movies.

Hon, who once belonged to online explosives forums, said he quit after the accident.

"It is easy to make explosives, just follow instructions about ingredients and their ratios. But it's very difficult to play safely and legally. So I think I'm done," he said.

Many vendors at Kim Bien refused to sell the chemicals to undercover Tuoi Tre reporters, seeking to avoid getting into trouble.

The fatal explosion happened just four days after a bag of explosive chemicals blew up in a waiting room of the Phuong Trang Transport Company in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho on February 28. Three people were injured including the bag's owner La Hoang Sang, 28, who has been arrested.

Sang told the police he learned how to make explosives on the Internet and was about to try mixing ingredients per the instructions he had read online when the accident occurred.

Another young man from HCMC, only identifed as Q., lost his left hand on February 3 when he was pressing a mixture of chemicals into a tube and it exploded.

"There was strong friction inside the tube when I was pressing the chemicals into it," said Q., who has not attempted to create explosives since.

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