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Mechanics of a living bomb

Hamas' "suicide bombers" during a demonstration in Gaza


Contrary to popular opinion claiming that for suicide terrorist act just one terrorist is enough, there are several people involved in the process of preparing the human bomb for explosion. Usually, they make up a team for serial production of living bombs.

First of all, there is a Recruiter that finds and selects suitable candidates for journey to "paradise".

In the nineties, when religious terrorist organizations, such as the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, were the primary sources for suicide bombers, the main pool of future suicide-bombers was a mosque, and a recruiter was a person that was connected to that mosque in one way or another. Now, when the secular terrorist organizations, such as Arafat's FATAH/Tanzim or People's Front for Liberation of Palestine, employ suicide bombers too, the recruitment can take place anywhere, from hospitals or restaurants to schools and even kindergartens - the youngest suicide bomber arrested by Israeli security services is just 13 years old, the youngest who blew up was 16. Also, palestinian militants often use small children to ferry weapons and explosives, for example in Jenin a 6 year old boy stopped by IDF soldiers had several grenades, AK magazines and other ammunition in his backpack.

Further on down the chain, there is an Agent, who has to select the target of a terrorist act and to collect information about it. Again, contrary to popular opinion, terrorist's choice of their objective is far from random. The Agent is usually a Palestinian Arab with a work permit in Israel, or less often an Israeli Arab. The Agent often works or had worked in the target location - such as a restaurant, a hotel or a banquet hall.

The Engineer prepares the bomb and its separate components.

The Mule,who brings the terrorist closer to his target is sometimes an Israeli Arab, more often a Palestinian with work permit. Usually he is not a member of a terrorist organization, but an experienced car-thief, well familiar with the Israeli society. A car with an Israeli number makes all movements in the country much easier. Such thief also knows all the roads very well and is experienced in escaping from the police.

The Planner, who commands the operation is the leader of the group, an active member of a terrorist organization (Hamas, Fatah etc.) who is the "field captain" of the terrorists. In addition to him, there is often another person who deals with the finances of the operation.

Of course, it is not a hard and fast structure. Often a single person performs several tasks, for example, recruitment and command, or, vice versa several terrorists work on the same task. The bomb is usually constructed by two or three people - the head "engineer" and his assistants.


"Trigger" of a suicide bomber, that was discovered by IDF soldiers in a secret laboratory in Shchem (Nablus)

Palestinians use two main types of explosive: "home-made" TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and TNT (trinitrotoluene) which is taken out of old mines and shells or brought in illegally from abroad.

Acetone peroxide is an explosive most widely available and the simplest in preparation. Its components can be easily bought in any household store without provoking suspicion - hydrogen peroxide is used for bleaching hair, acetone is used for nail polish, as a solvent or (in a solution with sulfur acid) as electrolyte. But preparation of acetone peroxide is rather dangerous, besides it must be compressed for better detonation, which can cause an explosion by itself. The plastification of acetone peroxide ("cooking" the explosive to form it as needed when it becomes cold) is a very dangerous process, too.

That's why there are always burns on Palestinian "engineers'" bodies, and sometimes body parts - fingers, hands - are missing.

But with all the disadvantages of a dangerous (for the terrorist) preparation, acetone peroxide has one definite advantage over other types of explosives - it cannot be discovered by dogs. Specially trained dogs (including dogs that were recently bought by Israel in USA) can discover explosives such as ammonal, plastic explosives, hexogen - but not acetone peroxide.

Sometimes Palestinian terrorists use acetone peroxide as an initiating explosive, and ammonal, which is simpler and less dangerous in preparation as the main explosive. "Homemade" ammonal is actually ammonia nitrate mixed with coal and aluminum powder. The ammonal, compressed and mixed in proper quantities, is a simple explosive that can be detonated by acetone peroxide. That way, less of the hazardous acetone peroxide is required, or the same quantity can be used for several bombs.

Palestinians use simple light bulbs as detonators - it is enough to break the glass and coat the wire with any easily flammable material. When the light bulb is turned on, the wire is instantly heated and the bomb detonates. It was recently mentioned in the media that a certain English doctor who worked in Jenin discovered Palestinian bombs with detonators made out of light bulbs. From this he concluded that the Palestinians were trained by IRA fighters. In fact, a light bulb is the simplest and the most widely available type of detonator and there is no need to be an IRA fighter to prepare it.

TNT or other industrially manufactured explosive comes to Palestinians in several ways, mostly by smuggling: from Jordan by land, from Lebanon to Gaza by sea, or via underground tunnels from Egypt to Rafah. Other sources of explosives are old mines, shells and bombs that are found on firing ranges and old Israeli mine fields. Finally, there are stolen explosives from Israeli stocks, though they are much harder to get then for example small arms.

Though TNT is stronger than acetone peroxide, it has a serious disadvantage - it cannot be plastified in home conditions, which is why it is much less convenient for the suicide-bomber. Often, when using tolite, terrorists don't wear belts, but take a sack or a suitcase. With TNT real detonators must be used.

Sometimes terrorists get a hold of even stronger explosives, such as C4 or other plastic explosives. C4 is significantly stronger than acetone peroxide and some 20% stronger than TNT. By its consistency C4 resembles Play Dough, so it is easy to make a bomb of any form out of it, and to hide it under the clothes. Luckily, plastic explosives are more difficult to obtain than others of the abovementioned types, which is why terrorists seldom have the opportunity to use it.

For illustration on the captured "Karin-A" ship there were more than two tons of explosives, TNT and C4.


A Palestinian with fake "Shaheed belt"

A primitive bomb usually consists of several cylinders, often cut parts of metallic water pipes, filled with explosives and fragments , that are connected by a wire to a trigger, the "red button", that is usually located in the suicide bomber's pocket, or on his chest. The cylinders are hung or packed in an inner lining of a jacket, that is worn under the clothes. It is a very simple and effective device.

A more sophisticated kind is made out of plastified explosive, and consists of "plates" of explosive, that are packed into a jacket or into a lining of a coat.
The "fragmentation jacket" consists of steel balls, screws, nuts and pieces of thick wire.


The shrapnel elements, which were discovered by IDF forces in a secret laboratory in Shchem (Nablus)

The main killing power of any bomb is not the explosion itself (the shock wave is rather small because of small quantity of explosives used) but the fragments of its jacket, which are launched in all directions by the explosion. In air force bombs and in many types of artillery shells the pieces are formed out of the steel casing, which is split into small pieces in an explosion.

In anti-personnel tank shells and in some kinds of artillery shells part of the internal payload is dedicated to shrapnel- such a shell is filled with several thousand of needles ("flechettes"). Sometimes these flechettes are made of plastic, which do not show up on x-rays. Palestinian terrorists realized this principle long ago and use it widely. More than 90% of the victims injured are hit by the bomb shrapnel.

The most widely used and the most dangerous shrapnel consists of ball bearings 3-7 millimeters in diameter. In the most severe terrorist acts - in the Delfinarium, Sbarro, in the banquet hall in Netania - the bombs of the suicide-bombers were filled with steel balls.

In an explosion, the balls are launched with such speed, that their power is close to a bullet's. You could say that in an explosion the suicide-bomber shoots several hundred bullets in a single moment.

Aside from steel balls, nails, screws and so on, nuts and washers are also used. Nuts are easily glued together to form tiny plates that can be pressed in, or even tied by a tape to the plates of the explosive to hide it better. Likewise, nuts are also stringed on a thread or on a piece of wire, as shown on the photographs.

X-ray picture of a 17-old girl, who was killed by a suicide-bomb's nail penetrating her skull.

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