Improvised explosive devices found in a house under construction in Iraq, utilising video cassette recorders as timers

A Civilian's Guide On How To Spot And Deal With An IED Attack

 Improvised explosive devices found in a house under construction in Iraq, utilising video cassette recorders as timers

What Is An IED?

IED is an abbreviation of Improvised Explosive Devise. 

Also known as the hidden enemy, these ‘homemade’ bombs can take on many forms and be activated in a variety of ways. 

Simple and cheap to make, these devices can be fashioned out of anything. For example, during the war in Afghanistan (2001 - 2021) it was not uncommon to see an IED made out of a palm oil container with wires hooked up to a nine-volt battery. 

As crude and unsophisticated as the explosives devices often are, spotting and neutralising them in a conflict zone involves a lot of training and advanced equipment. 

Like most bombs, IEDs do not discriminate and kill soldiers and civilians alike. 

The term ‘improvised’ refers to the haphazard construction of the device and its use by irregular forces - in other words, insurgent fighters and terrorists. 

According to NATO, IEDs will “continue to be part of the operating environment for future NATO military operations”. 

The term IED came into common usage during the Iraq War that began in 2003. When most people hear IED we immediately think of faraway conflicts and the suffering they cause to our troops. However, it is not only soldiers who need to know how to handle the threat of an IED.

IED Baghdad 2005
Ammunition rigged for an IED discovered by Iraqi police in Baghdad in November 2005

Examples Of IED Attacks On Civilians 

July 2005 London Bombings 

A series of coordinated attacks by Islamist suicide bombers took the lives of 52 people and injured hundreds. Also known as 7/7, the attacks were the deadliest terrorist incident in the UK since the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in Scotland. 

Four terrorists detonated three bombs in quick succession across the London Underground, followed by a fourth on a double-decker bus near Tavistock Square. 

The explosion was caused by IEDs packed into backpacks. 

2016 Brussels Bombing 

The bombing that took place in Belgium’s capital on March 22 was the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history. 

Three suicide bombings, two in Brussels Airport and one in Maalbeek metro station in the centre of the city. 

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 35 people, including three of the perpetrators. More than 300 were injured. 

The terrorists used a particularly deadly IED known as a nail bomb. 

The explosive device contains nails that increase the chances of more people being hurt by creating a larger radius of destruction. 

Such IEDs can also be packed with screws, shrapnel, razors and other small metal objects including needles and darts. 

Madrid Train Attacks 

Ten explosions decimated four commuter trains during rush hour on March 11, 2004, in Madrid.

The attack took place three days before Spain’s general election and was claimed by Al Qaeda, killing 191 people, and injuring more than 1,800.

The bombs had been made from bags stuffed with explosives that were sold to the terrorists by Spanish miners. 

Olympic Park Bombing 

The Olympic Park Bombing was an attack of domestic terrorism in Atlanta, Georgia where the games were hosted in 1996. 

An IED made of pipe bombs was detonated by Eric Rudolph who later pleaded guilty in 2005 and was committed to life imprisonment. 

Two people died and 111 were injured. 

Oklahoma City Bombing 

Anti-government extremists detonated a truck bomb in front of a Federal Building in Oklahoma City, USA on the morning of April 19, 1995. 

The bomb was an IED made from ammonium nitrate fertilizer and nitromethane (a commonly used compound in cleaning solvent). 

It was the worst terrorist attack on US soil at the time, killing 169 people. 

Timothy McVeigh was convicted and executed for the crime, while his accomplice, Terry Nichols, is serving a life sentence in federal prison. 

Manchester Arena Bombings 

On May 17, 2017, Salman Ramadan Abedi, an Islamist extremist suicide bomber, killed 23 people including children and injured 800 others. 

The attack took place as people were leaving Manchester Arena following a concert by the American pop star Ariana Grande. 

The IED was a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb that the terrorist carried into the arena in his backpack. 

Since the deadly incident, security at concerts and other large-scale gatherings across the UK has been significantly increased, including a rule stating that only transparent bags are allowed to be carried into venues.

tribute to the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing at St Anne's Square in Manchester city centre
Tribute to the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing at St Anne's Square in Manchester city centre

What To Do To Protect Yourself 

We have all heard “See it. Say It. Sorted” over and over again on public transport. It is important to not get complacent and assume that if you spot a suspicious out of place looking bag on the tube that someone had already reported it. It is important to: 

  • Trust your instincts
  • If you suspect it may be an IED, keep your distance. 
  • Call the anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321 or the police

Immediate Effects Of An Attack

According to US Homeland Security, injuries common to IED explosions include:

Overpressure Damage to the lungs, ears, abdomen, and other pressure-sensitive organs. Blast lung injury, a condition caused by the extreme pressure of an explosion, is the leading cause of illness and death for initial survivors of an explosion.

Fragmentation Injuries caused by projectiles thrown by the blast – material from the bomb, shrapnel, or flying debris that penetrates the body and causes damage.

Impact Injuries caused when the blast throws a victim into another object, i.e. fractures, amputation, and trauma to the head and neck.

Thermal Injuries caused by burns to the skin, mouth, sinus, and lungs.

Other injuries including exposure to toxic substances, crush injuries, and aggravation of preexisting conditions (asthma, congestive heart failure, etc).

What To Do During An IED Attack 

Following on from the advice given by US Homeland Security:

If you are in a building:

  • Get under a sturdy table or desk if objects are falling around you.
  • Exit as quickly as possible, without stopping to retrieve personal possessions or make phone calls.
  • Assist other victims to leave the area if possible. Use stairs instead of elevators.
  • Be aware of weakened floors and stairways, and watch for falling debris as you exit the building.

Once you are out of the building:

  • Move away from windows, glass doors, or other potentially hazardous areas.
  • Continue moving away from the blast site and look for emergency officials who will direct you to a safe location.
  • Be aware that secondary explosions may occur at or near the original bombing site, especially as rescue personnel arrive.
  • Use caution to avoid debris that could be hot, sharp, or cause puncture wounds.
  • Limit your use of phones and other communications devices as much as possible, because communications systems may become overloaded.

If you become trapped:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand to limit inhalation of dust or other hazardous materials.
  • Dense-weave cotton material can act as a good filter.
  • Avoid unnecessary movement so you don’t kick up dust.
  • Signal your location to rescuers by using a torch or whistle, or by tapping on a pipe or wall.
  • Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust and drain your energy.

If you are nearby, but not at the immediate site of an attack:

  • Assess the environment around you before taking any action.
  • Avoid being lured closer to see what is happening because the risks from secondary attacks or hazardous materials could be extremely high.
  • Listen for, and follow, instructions from local authorities and building personnel. If no information is immediately available from local officials, stay away from windows and doors and move to an inner area of a building until directed differently by authorities.

If you are on a train, the tube, or a bus:

  • In general, it is best to remain inside the train car unless you are in immediate danger.
  • Use the communication system on the train car to receive instructions.
  • If you are in danger and must leave the car, be aware of hazards on the tracks or in the tunnel and move with caution to the nearest station or point where you can contact emergency personnel.
  • Open windows or doors if possible and if it is safe to do so because it can reduce the severity and number of injuries from a secondary explosion.

Caring for the injured:

  • First aid you provide may save lives. The most likely help you may need to provide is to control bleeding. Apply direct pressure to the bleeding site.
  • Nearby hospitals may be overwhelmed with victims. If you need to transport victims who are not severely injured, go to a hospital that is further from the bombing site.

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