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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Conventional Terrorist Weapons

Terrorists are, on the whole, conventional in their use of weapons; bombs and guns are their favourites. Among the former, car- and truck-bombs have become very powerful weapons, especially in suicide attacks. Terrorists use both explosive bombings and incendiary bombings (e.g. Molotov cocktails). They also make use of letter and parcel bombs. Terrorists use guns, pistols, revolvers, rifles and (semi-) automatic weapons in assassinations, sniping, armed attacks and massacres. Grenades - from hand grenades to rocket-propelled - are also part of the terrorist arsenal. The use of missiles is rare but a few groups are known to be in possession of surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can bring down helicopters, fighter aircrafts and civilian airliners.

Guns and Other Firearms


Terrorists use both manufactured and improvised firearms. The term manufactured designates those arms made professionally by arms factories, while improvised describes those manufactured by non-professional arms manufacturers, or by illicit workshops. Firearms are sometimes referred to as "bored weapons", indicating the barrel from which the bullet or projectile is fired, or the tube from which the projectile is launched.

Manufactured Firearms

These are divided into sub-categories:

  • Small Arms: most firearms under the level of medium machine guns, or as a loose rule, belt-fed machine guns. They include pistols (which are now all semi-automatic or self re-loading), revolvers, rifles, submachine guns and light machine guns. Small arms also include so-called assault rifles, which are in fact either submachine gun mechanisms or mechanisms providing the same firing facilities in the body, stock or woodwork of a short rifle or carbine. The hand-guns (pistols and revolvers) are sometimes known as sidearms.

  • Medium-size Infantry Weapons: medium-sized machine guns (many of which are belt-fed), smaller sized mortars, rocket- propelled grenades and smaller calibre wire-guided missiles.

  • Heavy Infantry Weapons: heavy calibre machine guns, heavy calibre mortars, larger calibre wire-guided missiles, shoulder-held anti-tank missile launchers and some rockets below the category of artillery.

Improvised Firearms

These weapons include any of the above which are made outside professional and legal arms factories. Not all types of the above weapons have been privately manufactured or improvised, but weapons such as the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle or the M-60 heavy machine gun are within the manufacturing capabilities of local arms artificers on the north-west frontier of the Indian subcontinent. Primitive mortars and rocket launchers are also sometimes manufactured by different entities.

Weapons Manufacturers and Weapon Names

Small Arms

Most small arms are designed for military use, but hunting weapons and occasionally full-bore target-shooting weapons are also utilized.

Common calibres (reflecting procurement and re-supply trends).

5.56 mm
7.65 mm
9 mm

Manufacturers / Weapons

Considerable quantities of commercial shotguns are diverted into illicit black markets due to the large number of commercial manufacturers. The most common weapon manufacturers are:

FN (Fabrique Nationale).
Carl Gustav.
Webley & Scott.
Sterling-Enfield (Sten).
Bryno-Enfield (Bren).
A. Kalashnikov (AK).
Smith & Wesson.
British Small Arms Co.


1) AK-47 (Soviet rifle)

The AK-47 was accepted as the standard rifle for the Soviet Army in 1949 and retained that status until it was succeeded by the AKM. During the Cold War, the USSR supplied arms to anti-Western insurgent terrorists. The AK-47 became a symbol of left-wing revolution; between 30-50 million copies and variations of the AK-47 have been produced globally, making it the most widely used rifle in the world.

2) RPG-7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade)

The RPG-7 was issued by forces of the former USSR, the Chinese military and North Korea, and was used in many countries receiving weapons and training from the Warsaw Pact members. The RPG-7 proved to be a very simple and functional weapon, effective against fixed emplacements and playing an anti-vehicle/anti-armour role. Its effective range is thought to be approximately 500 metres when used against a fixed target, and about 300 metres when fired at a moving target. The RPG-7 is being used extensively by terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Latin America and is thought to be in the inventory of many insurgent groups. The RPG-7 is available in illegal international arms markets, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

3) Stinger (FIM92A)

The US-made Stinger is a man-portable infrared guided shoulder-launched Surface-To-Air Missile (SAM). It proved to be highly effective in the hands of Afghan Mujahedeen guerrillas during their insurgency against the Soviet intervention. Its maximum effective range is approximately 5,500 metres. Its maximum effective altitude is approximately 5250metres. It has been used to target high-speed jets, helicopters and commercial airliners.

4) SA-7 ("Grail")

Sold by the thousands after the demise of the former Soviet Union, the SA-7 "Grail" uses an optical sight and tracking device with an infrared seeking mechanism to strike flying targets with great force. Its maximum effective range is approximately 6,125 metres and maximum effective altitude is approximately 4300 metres. It is known to be in the stockpiles of several terrorist and guerrilla groups.

Bombs and Other Explosives


Few military bombs (other than those dropped by aircraft) are currently manufactured on the scale and with the diversity encountered in the Second World War. The exception to this generalization is the mine - both the anti-personnel and anti-tank mine. Mines can be adapted without too much difficulty with average combat-engineer experience. Some 300 different types of mines are buried under the soil, killing tens of thousands every year.

Most bombs assembled by terrorists are improvised. The raw material required for explosives is stolen or misappropriated from military or commercial blasting supplies, or made from fertilizer and other readily available household ingredients. Such assembled bombs are known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).


IEDs have a main charge, which is attached to a fuse. The fuse is attached to a trigger. In some types of IEDs, these three components are almost integrated into a single whole. The trigger is the part which activates the fuse. The fuse ignites the charge, causing the explosion. The explosion consists of a violent pulse of blast and shock waves. The effects of the IED are sometimes worsened by the addition of material, such as scrap iron or ball-bearings. Sometimes the trigger is not the only component that activates the fuse; there is also an anti-handling device that triggers the fuse when the IED is handled or moved. The purpose of most IEDs is to kill or maim. Some IEDs, known as incendiaries, are intended to cause damage or destruction by fire. The format of the charge in some IEDs (some of which have no casing to contain the components of the IED) can be shaped or directional, rendering a measure of control over the explosion. Anti-personnel mines and other types of mines have been adapted by terrorists to suit their purposes.

Favoured Explosive Charges

  • Semtex.
  • RDX (Cyclonite or Hexogen, depending on form).
  • PETN (Raw form of RDX).
  • C4 (Plastic Explosive).
  • TNT (Tri Nitro Toluene)
  • Common Fertilizer, used as a base.
  • Dynamite.

Methods / Triggers used to detonate an IED

  • Pressure activated (physical).
  • Pressure activated (water or atmospheric).
  • Electronic Signal (Remote Control).
  • Electronic Signal (Radio Frequency).
  • Electronic Pulse (Detonator box)
  • Photo Electric Cell ("when dawn breaks").
  • Motion Detector.
  • Heat Detector.
  • Radiation Trigger.
  • Circuit Connection (Anti-handling Device).
  • Time Switch (Electronic).
  • Time Switch (Acid activated).
  • Fuse Wire.

Examples of IEDs

  • Pipe Bomb
    This is the most common type of terrorist bomb and usually consists of low-velocity explosives inside a tightly capped piece of pipe. Pipe bombs are very easily made using gunpowder, iron, steel, aluminium or copper pipes. They are sometimes wrapped with nails to cause even more harm.

  • Molotov Cocktail
    This improvised weapon - first used by the Russian resistance against German tanks in the Second World War - is used by terrorists world-wide. Molotov cocktails are extremely simple to make and can cause considerable damage. They are usually made from materials like gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, ethyl or methyl alcohol, lighter fluid and turpentine, all of which are easily obtained. The explosive material is placed in a glass bottle, which breaks upon impact. A piece of cotton serves as a fuse, which is ignited before the bottle is thrown at the target.

  • Fertilizer Truck Bomb
    Fertilizer truck bombs consist of ammonium nitrate. Hundreds of kilograms may be required to cause major damage. The Irish Republican Army, Tamil Tigers and some Middle Eastern groups use the ammonium nitrate bomb.

  • Barometric Bomb
    One of the more advanced weapons in the terrorist's arsenal. The detonator of the bomb is linked to an altitude meter, causing the explosion to occur in mid-air.

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