Red Alert: This article begins with a clear warning: “under no circumstances should anyone touch or move an object that may be an explosive – no matter how much you think you know about bombs. This should only be undertaken by bomb squad or other highly qualified personnel”.
Since the onset of the joint military operations by a medley of Nigerian, Nigerien, Chadian and Cameroonian security forces against Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgent group in Nigeria’s North-East, which has steadily whittled down the group’s ability to further its campaign of terror, its foot soldiers have in desperation resorted to suicide bombing of crowded public places. Although bombings have always constituted the major plinth of the group’s standard combat stratagem, the increasing frequency of the use of this combat tactic, has set off alarm bells. From Yola to Maiduguri, Kano to other towns in the North-East, the fear of suicide bombers has become the beginning of wisdom.
In the light of the high casualty rates emanating from the bombing activities of BH, this column believes that there is an urgent need for the Nigerian public to be properly educated on bomb basics; a public enlightenment campaign that should be targeted at informing the members of the public about the dangers posed to their lives by bombs and how they can protect themselves and others from falling victim to these weapons of mass destruction. Basic knowledge about bombs will certainly go a long way in reducing the burgeoning casualty rates from BH’s bombing activities.
Every Nigerian deserves to be educated about bombs – what they consist of, how they look like, how they are built and deployed. It is surprising that for a country that has been battling insurgents for close to six years, majority of its citizens are still ignorant about bombs and the behaviour of bombers. Most Nigerians don’t know what an explosive device looks like, the variety of bombs that are available to Boko Haram and how these bombs can be deployed. For most of these people, bombs are large objects thrown down from airplanes; images gleaned from Hollywood movies. Security personnel are not left out of this large pool of people lacking basic bomb knowledge. (In fact, military checkpoints and facilities have also been targeted by suicide bombers). Ask an average force man in Nigeria what a Vehicle Improvised Explosive Device (VIED) or an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is, and you are likely to meet a brick wall. No wonder BH has been having a field day.
Bombing is a highly organized criminal or terrorist act. Unlike a random crime, bombing requires a certain level of organization, equipment, materials, a place to create the bomb – all of these points where your know-how can help you detect this activity and hopefully prevent it. By knowing something about explosives and particularly IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices), the public can help in preventing disasters. So, what is a bomb? An explosion is defined as the sudden and rapid release of gases from a confined space. To help you understand how an explosion works think of a fire. To create a fire you need a combustible material, oxygen and a source of ignition. An explosion is the sam1e except that the oxygen and combustible material are bound together so that everything happens faster – much faster. A fuel and an oxidizer are combined chemically to create a new compound that when detonated will conflagrate at anywhere from 9,000 to 27,500 feet per second.
An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) need not use what are known as high explosives. For example, an RDX explosion takes place at 27,500 feet per second. Nitrogylcerin explodes at 25,000 and TNT at 22.5 thousand feet per second. That is why they are known as High Explosives.
Pipe Bombs are simple devices containing black powder inside a container. Although the black powder (charcoal and potassium nitrate) is slow, the build up inside a sealed pipe creates tremendous pressure and then explodes releasing – beside the blast wave – a deadly wave of shrapnel. These bombs are also a favorite of suicide terrorists who may strap as many as 6 pipes to their chest and all will be detonated together, creating a simple but devastating weapon that can claim many victims. Everything required to build a pipe bomb is readily and commercially available – most of it at your hardware store.
Bombs also require a detonation. The “fire” must be started by something. Detonators are commercially available but not to everyone. Detonators can also be improvised. The detonator is essentially a mini-explosion device that will set-off the larger explosive train. Detonators can be electrical or non-electrical. In an electrical detonator, the electrical charge sets off the detonator substance (could be dynamite, TNT or RDX). There are also chemical detonations and other non-electrical detonation. In the first World Trade Center bombing, nitroglycerin was used as the detonator. Detonating chord, which should not be confused with a fuse, is also used. These chords are filled with PETN or RDX and can be used as bomb on their own. A run of detonating chord is an almost sure sign of bomb activity.
Terrorists have found the bomb especially useful as a weapon system. Combined with the ethos of suicide for the sake of their cause it has been especially devastating.
A lone suicide bomber carries an explosive charge that ranges from 11-29 lbs. for a vest or a bag, commonly packed with nails, ball bearings and other metal fragments around the explosives in order to maximize casualties. The Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) typically carries from 110 pounds up 1100 pounds but is not limited and can go to 12,000 pounds or much more. Unlike a Cruise or Tomahawk, the suicide driver can divert, call-off or simply postpone his mission. Terrorists have also learned they could achieve their goals using this indiscriminate but very powerful weapon.
The suicide bomber vest is constructed by making a wooden mold on to which is placed the shrapnel content. The (usually) plastic explosive is then rolled over the shrapnel like a layer of dough. This content is placed into a vest and is detonated electrically usually with an arming mechanism and then the detonation but sometimes the detonation is direct.
One popular technique in terrorist attacks is the double bomb. The first bomb is designed to attract First Responders to the area and the second is set or timed to cause them maximum damage. At the scene of any bombing it is imperative that a bomb team sweep the area first. This multi-focal attack, which may take many forms, is so common today that it is better to consider it the standard.
Some accessories for making bombs may include: Absorbents (saw dusts, shredded paper), Alchohol, Aluminum foil, Heat resistant containers, Petroleum Jelly, Protective gloves, Scales, Tubing and Wires. Some sources of chemicals used in bomb making may include very common household items but in unusual volumes. Vinegar is a source of acetic acid. Acetone and Aluminum powder are easily available and precursors of explosive materials. Look for large quantities of fuel oil, sugar, Nitric acid, Potassium chlorate and nitrate. Vehicle batteries are a good source of sulfuric acid; thermometers are a source of mercury. Hydrogen peroxide is readily available and of course, fertilizer – a source for Ammonium nitrate.
Having a good idea of substances used in making bombs can help detect the preparation for these attacks. Any sign of the following indicators in either a vehicle or a building should indicate the need for more extensive searches: Containers, gas balloons, fuse, explosive fillers or shrapnel and even contaminants such as rat poison (used to make the shrapnel more deadly by increasing bleeding) may be present. An unusual amount of cellular phones may be another indication because increasingly cellular phones are used as remote devices to activate detonators. Blasting caps electric or non-electric as well as the many type of fuse and detonating cords will often be present at the scene of bomb activity.
Coming across evidence of any criminal or bomb making activity should immediately initiate a call for specialized aid from Bomb units or EOD units. Never, ever touch the materials you may find. Any suspicious object – an abandoned bag with or without wires visible; a gas canister, a knap sack or even a shopping bag should require an immediate evacuation of the area and any further intervention should await the arrival of the bomb experts.
Furthermore, the following POTENTIAL VBIED and SUICIDE BOMBER INDICATORS should be focal points of preventive measures: License plates inconsistent with vehicle registration; modification of truck or van with heavy duty springs to handle heavier loads; rentals of vans with false papers for dry runs; rental of self-storage space for the purpose of storing chemicals or mixing apparatus; delivery of chemicals directly from the manufacturer to a self-storage facility or unusual deliveries of chemicals to residential or rural addresses; theft of explosives, blasting caps, or fuses, or certain chemicals used in the manufacture of explosives; chemical fires, toxic odors, brightly colored stains, or rusted metal fixtures in apartments, hotel/motel rooms, or self-storage units due to chemical activity; small test explosions in rural wooded areas; treatment of chemical burns or treatment for missing hands/fingers; untreated chemical burns or missing hands/fingers.
Again, it is advised that counter measures should be constantly probed and tested using red teams and other methods. In addition, Nigeria’s security arrangements should be totally reviewed to take into cognizance the more aggressive Modus Operandi of BH’s most recent attacks. BH’s MO has remained the same: stealthy, precision strikes targeted at massed public places with intent to cause mass casualties. Some recent incidents are quite instructive: using similar MO, Suicide bombers detonated an explosive device that tore through a marketplace on the 5th of June, 2015 in Yola, North-Eastern Nigeria, killing at least 31 people and injuring scores more. The bombers exploded their bombs after attracting passerby to a fight stage-managed by them. At an abattoir in the Kashuwar Sanu cattle market, a suicide bomber disguised as a customer detonated his explosive vest in a crowd of butchers and shoppers. The attack was carried around 1 p.m., when business was at its peak. The suicide bomber deliberately targeted the most crowded part of the cattle market, the abattoir, and detonated his explosives. At a mosque in Maiduguri, a young female suicide bomber killed 12 worshippers when she blew herself up in a mosque. So, predictable as BH’s MO is, the question is why have Nigeria’s security strategists consistently failed to fashion out effective preventive strategies to check the ease and frequency of bomb attacks by BH? There should be a blueprint by now. The Iyanya Park, Police Force Headquarters and other – past and recent – bombing incidents should have served as learning points for the country’s security arrowheads. This is a topic of discussion for another day, though.
In all, a Bomb Awareness and Prevention Program (BAPP) should be immediately developed and initiated by Nigeria’s security think tank in conjunction with the Ministry of Information, the National orientation Agency, the regular and social media – print and electronic and other governmental and non-governmental agencies aimed at educating the public about bombs. This campaign should involve the distribution of outreach materials by local law enforcement to the general public to help more in easily: Identifying homemade explosive precursor chemicals, improvised explosive device (IED) components, and recognize suspicious purchasing behavior that could indicate potential bomb-making activities. An awareness program like this will go a long way in encouraging a stronger relationship between businesses and local law enforcement agencies, reinforcing the foundation of effective community safety and security. Reporting suspicious behavior is key to its Prevention. The benefits of a bomb awareness campaign are legion, and include: Private sector point-of-sale awareness, law enforcement/private sector partnerships, community-based policing, fee, secure access to training & awareness materials et al.
In all, every Nigerian Belongs to a community. In cities and the suburbs, people share everyday moments with their neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends. It’s easy to take for granted every day routine moments — going to work or school, the fast food spot or the petrol station. But one’s every day is different than their neighbor’s—filled with the moments that make it uniquely theirs. That is why when people see things that shouldn’t be there — or someone’s behavior that doesn’t seem quite right— they should do something about it. To report suspicious activity, contact your local law enforcement agency. Describe specifically what you observed, including: Who or what you saw; when you saw it; where it occurred; and why it’s suspicious.
God save Nigeria!