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Explosives refer to any chemical compound, mixture or device of which its primary purpose is to function by explosion. Explosives get used as a weapon of mass destruction used to inflict body harm to humans. There are various types of explosives that include dynamite, RDX, Trinitrotoluene (TNT), Nitroglycerin, PETN, ANFO, and other high explosives such as detonators, safety fuses, squibs, detonating cord, igniter cord and igniters.

History of explosives as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD)

Since the invention of explosive gunpowder by the Chinese for use in firecrackers, conventional explosives have existed in which they had got modified for use as weapons. Traditional as well as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) easily get obtained as well as easy to use. The instructions about the assembly and use of explosives are widely available in print and on the internet and also through the institutional knowledge of informal criminal networks.

Since the 1860s, nitroglycerine that is a heavy, oily explosive liquid made by nitrating glycerol has been used in making bombs. Nitroglycerine is sensitive to shock and thus, could explode and over an extended period becomes increasingly unstable hence quite dangerous to transport. In its liquid state, a premature detonation may take place when the liquid gets sloshed around. TNT, a high explosive got invented by German chemist Joseph Wilbrand in 1863. It first got used as a yellow dye, and was hard to detonate thus its explosive potential did not get realized for several years. It has however become a preferable explosive among the military as well as in industrial use. The use of TNT is preferred due to its insensitivity to friction and shock; hence, there is a minimal risk of accidental detonation. The mix of nitroglycerine with absorbent inert substance: dirt forming a stable nitroglycerine dynamite, got invented in 1867 by a Swedish chemist and engineer, Alfred Nobel.

Making and dispersal of explosive

Terrorists use bombs such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that contain an explosive charge, typically a military, commercial or homemade explosive and also a professional or homemade detonator. Electronic initiation system such as a timer, barometer or radio control gets added to the device. Each single part of the device cannot bring out the explosive power of the IED; however the combination of various items is a deadly threat. Explosions get delivered in intended targets through various ways. They may be delivered by a missile or a projectile device that includes a rocket, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), mortar or air-dropped bomb. Suicide bombings are also a common way of delivering explosions. Bombers manually deliver and detonate the explosive device on or near their person. Detonation of explosions occurs through the use of timed, remote such as radio and cell phone or other methods of transmission such as air pressure, light sensitivity, movement and electrical impulse.

Signs and symptoms of use of explosives

A principal aspect that characterizes an explosion is an overpressure. The explosion impact modeling gets based on TNT explosions to calculate the overpressure as a function of distance. Signs of an explosive incident include dense smoke that fills a building, floor and ceiling, and rapidly speeds when an exterior door gets opened and smoke flame-over upon the breaking of windows or opening of doors. Various effects of explosion overpressure on structures exist on human casualties and heavy building damage.

Targets for explosive weapons

Explosives have been used by terrorists as preferred weapons of mass destruction due to various factors. The factors include that they are destructive, relatively easy to acquire or fabricate, and also still comparatively easy to transport surreptitiously on land and by sea. Explosives also get preferred by terrorists since they usually lead to general population fear far beyond the affected geographical location. Conventional explosives also provide a serious challenge as weapons of mass destruction since they can effectively disperse chemical, biological as well as radiological agents (Bullock & Haddow, 2006). The most common targets for explosive devices are government buildings, transport terminals, ambassadorial buildings and residence, and crowded locations such as malls, hotels, and restaurants.

Actions the public can implement to prepare for an explosive attack

Various counterterrorism measures can get enacted by the government, law enforcement agencies and the public to minimize as well as prepare for the risk of an explosive terrorist attack. One, government officials, public as well as military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies could coordinate intelligence efforts and information so as to disrupt communications, operations and logistics support thus weakening terrorist groups and preventing potential attacks. Earliest detection and disruption of explosives is difficult though it is the best alternative. For instance, in airports and other transport terminals preparing can be done by installing high-tech equipment to scan on hold luggage, carry-on luggage, and persons thus preparing and preventing attacks. According to Schubert & Kuznetsov (2012), terrorist bombs are easy to detect since there is a case or box filled with a homogenous material equipped with an initiating cap fitted with an electric time fuse. However, the explosive charge gets sometimes screened by camouflage. Explosive materials have any shape adapted to the environment for transport reasons; therefore, the best detection is by their chemical composition. The relatively high density of the material is a useful indication. Most suicide attacks target crowded areas such as malls, hotels, and restaurants thus increasing surveillance and law enforcement officers could assist business owners and the public to secure the places.

An explosive incident

An example of an explosive terrorist attack is the incident that took place in Brussels on March 22, 2016, killing at least 31 people and injuring hundreds of others. According to Washington Post (March 23, 2016) the terrorists may have used a peroxide-based explosive, triacetone triperoxide called a TATP. TATP which is a white powdery substance gets obtained by reacting hydrogen peroxide with acetone under specific chemical conditions.



Bullock, J., & Haddow, G. (2006): Introduction to homeland security. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Schubert, H., & Kuznetsov, A. (Eds.). (2012): Detection of Bulk Explosives Advanced Techniques against Terrorism: Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Detection of Bulk Explosives Advanced Techniques against Terrorism St. Petersburg, Russia 16–21 June 2003 (Vol. 138). Springer Science & Business Media.

Washington Post (March 23, 2016): Mother of Satan’: The highly unstable bomb of choice for terrorists, likely used in Brussels attacks: Washington Post:

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