Overview of terrorist use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)

Overview of terrorist use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)

overview of terrorist use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)

Last updated on October 8th, 2023 at 05:45 am

Provide a brief overview of terrorist use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), such as pipe bombs, and what is known about the fragmentation of pipe bombs with varying case thickness.

  • Use proper APA format in at least 800 words


Sample Solution

Terrorist Use of Improvised Explosive Devices

Improvised explosive device (IED) is a term used to describe a “homemade” destructive device or bomb that can be used to distract, harass, incapacitate or destroy and are often used by insurgents, suicide bombers, vandals, criminals, and terrorists (Department of Homeland Security [DHS], n.d.). The term IED was popularized by the media in the 2000s during their coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when terrorists and insurgents frequently used them (Bhatnagar, 2018). IED use around the world by terrorists has gradually risen, and the rate of IED attacks by terrorists has been relatively steady since 1970 and have been used in the majority of explosive attacks especially in the North African and Middle East regions, South America, and Western Europe (Johnson & Braithwaite, 2017). This pervasive use of IEDs by terrorists highlights the importance of reviewing these weapons as well as their use.

The DHS (n.d.) reported that IEDs come in various forms owing to the fact that they are improvised, and range from pipe bombs to advanced types that can cause significant destruction and deaths. Typically, IEDs have elements that include main charge, switch, initiator, source of power, and a container that are usually packaged with enhancements such as metal fragments and glass aimed at increasing the explosion-propelled shrapnel, among other hazardous materials. The most common materials used to construct IEDs include hydrogen peroxide, gunpowder, and fertilizer that are packed with oxidizer and fuel for enhanced reaction (Bhatnagar, 2018). The degree of the damage due to an IED attack is dependent on its location (placement), form, size, and the materials used in its construction (DHS, n.d.).

Among all the forms of IEDs known, pipe bombs are perhaps the most commonly used by insurgents and terrorists (Bhatnagar, 2018). This is because they are easy to construct and use, and the materials used in their improvisation are simple to acquire. The main mechanism of injury for pipe bombs is fragmentation, hence making them desirable for terrorists whose objective is inflicting maximum damage and casualties (da Silva et al., 2020). According to da Silva et al. (2020), pipe bombs typically consist of metallic or plastic container thronged with explosives and laced with caps on both of its ends to confine the materials for detonation. Explosives used are usually low-velocity that have subsonic reactions, lower explosion velocity, and do not present detonation waves. Nonetheless, they can have the same effect as high explosives when confined in containers such as enclosed pipes and detonated in a process called deflagration (Oxley et al., 2001).

There are four effects after a chemical explosion in the context of the use of pipe bombs by terrorists in an IED attack that include the blast, ancillary, thermal, and fragmentation effects that occur in that order (da Silva et al., 2020). The first effect, blast, is due to a quick augmentation of the products of detonation, which are usually gaseous and create blast waves travelling fast over large distances, and raises the ambient pressure. This is followed by the secondary blast pressure, or ancillary effects, that describe the reaction between the blast wave and objects such as soil and water. This results in the blast wave’s refraction and reflection that may lead to increased destruction and damage due to blast focusing (Lichorobiec et al., 2017; da Silva et al., 2020).

The third outcome, thermal effect, due to the heat generated in the chemical reaction that produces the explosion. The chemical explosion usually increases the temperature to about 3871°C which often present as severe burning, charring or deforming of victims and materials depending on their proximity to the explosion. The last effect, the fragmentation that is the main mechanism of injury for pipe bombs according to Bhatnagar (2018), is attributed to the objects accelerated by the blast waves and casing rupture, or secondary and primary fragments respectively. Pipe bombs are made in such a way that they have casings and caps that are thick enough to confine the materials for an effective explosion (Lichorobiec et al., 2017). Also, the thickness of the pipe bomb is correlated to the size of the fragments in an explosion, with thin and thick walls resulting to smaller and larger fragments respectively (da Silva et al., 2020).

In conclusion, the use of IEDs such as pipe bombs by terrorists has risen dramatically around the globe. The use of pipe bombs, for instance, is prevalent since they are easy and simple to construct and the materials for making them are readily available in hardware stores and the Internet. Pipe bombs are simple pipes with caped ends into which low-velocity are packed, and are infused with a detonator for initiating an explosion. The pervasive use of IEDs such as pipe bombs by terrorists since the steady since the 1970s necessitates the need to understand these weapons and their use.


  1. Bhatnagar, A. (2018). Lightweight Fiber-Reinforced Composites for Ballistic Applications. In P. W.R. Beaumont & C. H. Zweben, Comprehensive Composite Materials II (pp. 527-544). Elsevier.
  2. da Silva, L. A., Johnson, S., Critchley, R., Clements, J., Norris, K., & Stennett, C. (2020). Experimental fragmentation of pipe bombs with varying case thickness. Forensic Science International306, 110034. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2019.110034
  3. Department of Homeland Security [DHS]. (n.d.). IED Attack: Improvised Explosive Devices. https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/prep_ied_fact_sheet.pdf
  4. Johnson, S. D., & Braithwaite, A. (2017). Spatial and temporal analysis of terrorism and insurgency. In G. LaFree & J. D. Freilich (Eds.), The Handbook of the Criminology of Terrorism (pp. 232-243). John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Lichorobiec, S., Kavický, V., & Figuli, L. (2017). Comprehensive Assessment of Potential Threats to All Kinds of Events Arising from the Explosion of Pipe Bomb. Key Engineering Materials, 755, 219–228. https://doi.org/10.4028/www.scientific.net/kem.755.219
  6. Oxley, J. C., Smith, J. L., Resende, E., Rogers, E., Strobel, R. A., & Bender, E. C. (2001). Improvised explosive devices: pipe bombs. Journal of Forensic Science46(3), 510-534. https://doi.org/10.1520/JFS15000J


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