Car bomb

Car bomb

A car bomb is an explosive device placed in a car or other vehicle and then detonated. It is commonly used as a weapon of assassination, terrorism, or guerrilla warfare, to kill the occupant(s) of the vehicle, people near the blast site, or to damage buildings or other property. Car bombs act as their own delivery mechanisms and can carry a relatively large amount of explosives without attracting suspicion; in larger vehicles, weights of up to 1000 pounds have been seen. Car bombs are activated in a large variety of ways, including the opening of the vehicle door, activation of the car ignition or pressure on or the depression of the brake or acceleration pedals.cite book|title=Technology and terrorism|last=Wilkinson|first=Paul|coauthors=Christop Harman|publisher=Routledge|year=1993|isbn=0714645524]

The U.S. military and law enforcement agencies often call a car bomb a "VBIED", an acronym standing for "Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device",cite web|url=|title=Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs)||accessdate=3 August|accessyear=2008] or "SVBIED" if it is used in a suicide attack.



A car bomb is an effective weapon because it is a easy way to transport a large amount of explosives and flammable material to the site where the explosion should take place. A car bomb also produces a large amount of shrapnel, or flying debris, that causes secondary damage to bystanders and buildings.

uicide bombing

In recent years, car bombs have become widely used by suicide bombers who seek to ram the car into a building and simultaneously detonate it.


Defending against a car bomb involves keeping vehicles at a distance from vulnerable targets by using Jersey barriers, concrete blocks or bollards, or by hardening buildings to withstand an explosion. Since the height of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) campaign, the entrance to Downing Street has been closed, preventing the general public from getting near Number 10. Where major public roads pass near buildings, road closures may be the only option (thus, for instance, in Washington, D.C. the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue immediately in front of the White House) is closed to traffic). Historically these tactics have encouraged potential bombers to target "soft" or unprotected targets, such as markets. [See Davis.] The U.S. State Department has published a guide on car bomb awareness. [ [! "Terrorist Tactics: When broken down vehicles go boom!", U.S. State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security, December 2005] ]


Car bombs and detonators function in a diverse manner of ways, and there are numerous variables in the operation and placement of the bomb within the vehicle. Earlier and less advanced car bombs were often wired to the car's ignition system, but this practice is now considered more laborious and less effective than other more recent methods, as it required a greater amount of work for a system that could often be quite easily defused. While it is more common nowadays for car bombs to be fixed magnetically to the underside of the car, the underneath of passenger/driver's seat, or inside of the mudguard, detonators triggered by the opening of the vehicle door or by pressure applied to the brakes or accelerating pedals are also used.

Bombs operating by the former method of affixation to the underside of the car more often than not make use of a device called a tilt fuse. A small tube designed of glass or plastic, the tilt fuse is not dissimilar to a medical tablet tube. One end of the fuse will be filled with mercury, while the other open end is wired with the ends of an open circuit to an electrical firing system. Naturally, when the tilt fuse moves or is jerked, the supply of mercury will flow to the top of the tube and close the circuit. Thus, as the vehicle goes through the regular bumping and dipping that comes with driving over a terrain, the circuit is completed and the bomb or explosive is allowed to function.

As a safety mechanism to protect the bomber, the placer of the bomb may rig a timing device incorporated with the circuit to activate the circuit only after a certain time period, therefore ensuring that the bomber will not accidentally activate the bomb before he or she is able to get clear of the blast radius.


Car bombs can be seen as the remote descendants of the 17th Century Hellburners, explosive-loaded ships which were used to deadly effect by the besieged Dutch forces in Antwerpen against the besieging Spanish. Though using a less refined technology, the basic principle of the Hellburner is similar to that of the car bomb.

The first car bomb may have been the one used for the assassination attempt on Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1905 in İstanbul by Armenian separatists, in the command of Belgian anarchist Edward Jorris.

In the past, groups that used car bombs have included:

*In 1920, when Italian anarchist Mario Buda parked his horse-drawn wagon filled with explosives and shrapnel near the corner of Wall and Broad streets in New York City, directly across from J P Morgan Company. The explosion killed 40 and wounded 200.
*In 1927, Andrew Kehoe used a detonator to ignite dynamite and hundreds of pounds of pyrotol which he had secretly planted inside a school. As rescuers started gathering at the school, Kehoe drove up, stopped, and detonated a bomb inside his shrapnel-filled vehicle, killing himself and the school superintendent, and killing and injuring several others. In total, Kehoe killed 45 people and injured 58 making the Bath School disaster the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history.
*In the late 1940s, the Zionist group Lehi used car and truck bombs against Palestinian and British targets as an attempt to end peace discussions;
*The Viet Cong guerrillas used them at the end of the First Indochina War and throughout the Vietnam War;
*The OAS used them at the end of the French rule in Algeria;
*The Sicilian Mafia used them to assassinate independent magistrates up to the early 1990s;
*The IRA used them frequently during its campaign during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and England. The Omagh bombing by the Real IRA, an IRA splinter group caused the most casualties in the Troubles from a single car bomb.
* Loyalist paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association used car bombs against civilians in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The UVF bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. [ [ BBC News] ] [cite book | last = Taylor | first = Peter | authorlink = Peter Taylor (Journalist) | title = Loyalists | publisher = Bloomsbury Publishing | date = 1999 | pages = pp. 125-126 | doi = | isbn = 0-7475-4519-7] caused the most casualties in a single day during the Troubles.
*During the Soviet-Afghan war, at a variety of training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan; [Davis, ch. 13, "Car-Bomb University"] , the Pakistani ISI with the aid of the CIA trained mujahadin in the preparation of car bombs
*Agents of the Chilean intelligence agency DINA were convicted of using car booms to assassinate Orlando Letelier and Carlos Prats, who were opponents of the regime of Augusto Pinochet
*In the 1980s, the Latin American drug lord Pablo Escobar used vehicle bombs extensively against government forces and population centers in Latin America;
*In 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a Ryder box truck filled with an explosive mixture (fuel oil and fertilizer) in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see Oklahoma City bombing)
*In the late 1990s and early 2000s, vehicular explosives were used by Chechen nationalists against targets in RussiaMass-casualty car bombing, and especially suicide car bombing, is currently a predominantly Middle Eastern phenomenon. The tactic was first introduced to the region by the Stern gang, who used it extensively against Palestinian and British targets; it was subsequently taken up by Palestinian bombers as well. [Davis, chapter 4, "Oranges for Jaffa".] The tactic was widely used in the Lebanese Civil War by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hezbollah. The most notable car bombing was the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, which killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French military personnel. In the Lebanese civil war, an estimated 3,641 car bombs were detonated. [ [ The Atlas Group and Walid Raad - Cornerhouse ] ]

Groups that still use car bombs include:

*Palestinian militant groups, against both military and civilian Israeli targets.
*Tamil Tigers, in Sri Lanka's long-running civil war.
*Al-Qaeda (see esp. 1998 United States embassy bombings)
*The Iraqi insurgency. Car bombs have become more frequent during the Iraq War. An estimated 578 car bombs were detonated in Iraq between June 2003 and June 2006 [ [ / Arts & weekend / Books - Explosive reading ] ] .

ee also

* Improvised explosive device#Car Bomb/Vehicle-borne IEDs
* List of mass car bombings



*Mike Davis, "Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb" (Verso: New York, 2007).

External links

* [ Video of a detected car bomb (VBIED) going off]
* [ A history of the car bomb] (Asia Times)
* [ "Explosive reading", review by Daniel Swift for the "Financial Times"]
* [ Car Bomb - manyriverfilms' award-winning documentary history of the car bomb]

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