Bomb-making instructions on the internet

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The availability of bomb-making instruction on the Internet has been a cause célèbre amongst lawmakers and politicians anxious to curb the Internet frontier by censoring certain types of information deemed "dangerous" which is available online. "Simple" examples of explosives created from cheap, readily available ingredients are given.[1]

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that there were 1,699 criminal bombings in 1989 and 3,163 in 1994.[2]

Moral philosophy[edit]

Supporters of digital rights argue that managers of Internet traffic do not have a right to deep packet inspection, the automated system of analyzing what information is being transmitted, for example refusing to deliver a packet with the words "bomb instructions" and alerting authorities to the ISP that requested the information.[3] They suggest that "we never seem to hear" about how the same instructions, including those for building nuclear devices,[4] have been available in public libraries for decades without calls for censorship.[5] In the late 19th century, Johann Most compiled Austrian military documents into a booklet demonstrating the use of explosives and distributed it at anarchist picnics without repercussion.[4]

Mike Godwin, then of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claimed that journalists have played a key role in linking the creation of "bombs" with "the Internet" in the public conscious.[5]

Critics of the prosecution of Sherman Austin, an American anarchist charged with publishing instructions on the Internet, have pointed out that the Wikipedia article on Molotov cocktails contains more detailed instructions on the construction of homemade explosives, than Austin's website did.[6][7]

Most American websites offering bomb-making instructions would not face civil liability, since Hess v. Indiana and Waller v. Osbourne determined that free speech restrictions can only be applied if the goal was "producing imminent lawless conduct" among a single target group – which is not the case for a website available to a large swath of the population – making the situation comparable to music advocating violence or suicide in its lyrics.[8]


In 1986, prior to the widespread use of the Internet, police investigated the sharing of a computer print-out from a digital manual titled the "Complete Book of Explosives" written by a group calling itself "Phoenix Force", as students shared the list with classmates and experimented with building many of the bombs it listed.[9]

After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, anonymous usenet posts criticised the construction of the bomb, and offered suggestions on how to overcome the failure of the bomb to do its maximum intended damage.[10] On March 23, 1996, the full text of the Terrorist Handbook was published online, including instructions on building the bomb used in the bombing, with the suggested upgrades.[10] When Mohammed Usman Saddique was arrested in 2006, he was charged with "possessing a document or record containing information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" for having a copy of the manual on CD-ROM.[11]

Also in 1994, a thread on the National Rifle Association's bulletin board a user named Warmaster detailed how to make bombs out of baby food jars.[10]

A 1996 copy of the left-wing online German magazine Radikal hosted on a Dutch server provided detailed instructions of how to sabotage railroad lines.[12] In March of that year, a New South Wales MP called for legislation regarding internet access for youth, following reports of a boy injuring himself while trying to follow a bomb recipe online.[13]

Through 1998, the common view of the instructions was that they were used by curious youth anxious to build explosives simply as a dangerous experiment "with no intention of hurting anybody".[14]

Police claim that they found printed copies of bomb-making instructions downloaded from the Internet in the bedroom of Thomas Solomon, the perpetrator of the 1999 Heritage High School shooting.[15] In the same year, controversy over the availability of this information on the internet was reignited as a result of the Columbine High School Shooting.

Also in 1999, David Copeland planted nail bombs in London, killing 3 people and injuring 139, based on techniques discussed in The Terrorist's Handbook and How to Make Bombs: Part Two, which he had downloaded from the internet.[16]

The militant anti-abortion movement Army of God also provided information on constructing bombs in preparation for anti-abortion violence on their website.[17]

In 2001, journalists discovered that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had been using the internet to learn bomb-making techniques.[18]

In Finland in 2002, "RC" discussed bomb-making techniques on the internet on a Finnish website whose moderator displayed a picture of his own face on Osama bin Laden's body, and then RC set off a bomb that killed seven people, including himself.[16]

In 2002, New Zealander Bruce Simpson published The Low Cost Cruise Missile; A looming threat? showing readers how they could construct a cruise missile for under $5,000.[19][20]

In 2003, Jeremy Parker of the Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan posted detailed bomb instructions on the internet in response to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, stating "sure would hate to see anything happen".[21]

The report "How to Bomb Thy Neighbor: Hamas Offers Online 'Academy'" describes a Hamas online interactive 14-lesson course for Muslims on bomb-making, as part of a campaign to increase the number of bomb-makers.[16][22]

In 2004, a Palestinian group posted an online video showing the proper construction of suicide vests, hoping to support the Iraqi insurgency.[23]

The 2004 Madrid train bombers, who killed 191 people and wounding 1,800, downloaded their bomb-making instructions from the internet.[24]

The Canadian Saad Khalid admitted that he had downloaded bomb-making materials online in 2006, leading to the 2006 Toronto terrorism case.[25]

British student Isa Ibrahim made a suicide vest bomb using instructions he found online. He planned on exploding the device at a mall. He was sentenced in July 2009 to a minimum of ten years in jail.[26]

Najibullah Zazi, an al-Qaeda member who pleaded guilty in February 2010 to a plot to bomb the New York City Subway system, searched online for information on how to build a bomb and where to buy the parts.[27]


In 1995, Dianne Feinstein produced a bill to the United States Senate making it illegal to distribute bomb-making information, punishable by a $250,000 fine and 20 years' imprisonment.[29] Two years later, the body voted 94–0 in favor of implementing it.[30] Although it was frequently said to be in response to Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma bombing, he had actually used two traditional hard-copy books titled Homemade C-4, A Recipe for Survival and Ragnar's Big Book of Homemade Weapons and Improvised Explosives. Critics later pointed out both books were still for sale at, suggesting that legislators were not concerned about the true dissemination of such information.[31] When lawsuits erupted over DeCSS technology available over the Internet, allowing users to "crack" DVD encryption, the founders questioned why bomb-making instructions were legal, while software cracks that simply cost corporations money were not.[32]

In 2004, German authorities forced a seventeen-year-old to shut down his Web site, entitled Der Abarisch Sturm after he posted detailed instructions of how to build a bomb.[12] That year, French police also arrested a computer student in Alfortville who claimed he had posted similar instructions "for fun."[12]

A 2007 attempt by the European Commission to suppress bomb-making websites by making ISPs criminally liable for allowing a user to view such a page was ridiculed by The Register as "fantastically ignorant of internet realities"[28][33]

Web sites offering advice on construction explosives are labelled as "Refused Classification" in Australia, as it is deemed to violate "all acceptable community standards".[34]


  1. ^ Horgan, John. "The Psychology of Terrorism", p. 116
  2. ^ The psychology of terrorism, John Horgan, Routledge, 2005 ISBN 0-7146-5262-8
  3. ^ Stair, Ralph M. et al. "Principles of Information Systems", p. 275
  4. ^ a b Anna Larabee, "Bombs: It's Not the How, but the Why," Star-Telegram, August 7, 2005.
  5. ^ a b Godwin, Mike. "Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age", p. 67
  6. ^ Caslon Analytics, Bomb info Archived October 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Touretzky, David S. What the FBI Doesn't Want You to See
  8. ^ Weissblum, Lonn. Incitement to violence on the world wide web Archived July 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Hegarty, Stephen. Hernando TImes, "Bomb-making instructions circulate in Pasco school", November 13, 1986
  10. ^ a b c Steger, Manfred B. "Violence and Its Alternatives", p. 89
  11. ^ Daily Telegraph, Terror suspect had bomb-making manuals, court told, January 27, 2010
  12. ^ a b c Council of Europe, "Organised Crime in Europe: The threat of cybercrime," 2004. p. 141
  13. ^ Everard, Jerry. "Virtual States: The Internet and the Boundaries of the Nation-State"
  14. ^ Tri City Herald, "Bomb making instructions on internet", October 2, 1998
  15. ^ Moore, Mark Harrison. "Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence", p. 50
  16. ^ a b c Weimann, Gabriel (2006). Terror on the Internet: the new arena, the new challenges. US Institute of Peace Press. ISBN 1-929223-71-4. 
  17. ^ Karafin, Michael. Ball State Daily News, "Inflammatory news dangerous, irresponsible", January 19, 2010
  18. ^ Hate and bias crime: a reader, p. 367, Barbara Perry, Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-415-94408-2, accessed February 23, 2010
  19. ^ The Low Cost Cruise Missile, Bruce Simpson, 20 May, 2002
  20. ^ Boffin builds backyard missile, New Zealand Herald, 4 June, 2003
  21. ^ Southern Poverty Law Center, Ku Klux Klan
  22. ^ The World's Most Threatening Terrorist Networks and Criminal Gangs, p. 159, Michael T. Kindt, Jerrold M. Post, Barry R. Schneider, Macmillan, 2009, ISBN 0-230-61809-X, accessed February 23, 2010
  23. ^ Myers, Lisa. NBC, Web video teaches terrorists to make bomb vest, December 22, 2004
  24. ^ "Al-Qaida's Online University; Jihad 101 for Would-Be Terrorists," Der Spiegel, August 17, 2005, accessed February 23, 2010
  25. ^ Gillespie, Bill. CBC, Radio Show Log, June 23, 2006
  26. ^ Sapsted, David, "British student ‘learnt bomb-making on net’", The National, June 13, 2009, accessed February 28, 2014
  27. ^ "Terror suspect indicted for conspiracy", UPI, September 24, 2009, accessed February 28, 2014
  28. ^ a b The Register, EC wants to suppress internet bomb-making guides, Julye 4, 2007
  29. ^ Feinstein Amendment SP419
  30. ^ Yeazel, Bryan J. "Bomb-making Manuals on the Internet", 16 Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy 279–306, 2002.
  31. ^ H. Brian Holland. "Inherently Dangerous: The Potential for an Internet-Specific Standard Restricting Speech that Performs a Teaching Function" University of San Francisco Law Review 39 (2005): 353.
  32. ^ CNN, Seven lines of code can crack DVD encryption Archived June 10, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., March 12, 2001
  33. ^ The Times, Website bomb-making lessons to be outlawed across Europe, July 4, 2007
  34. ^ The Australian, Internet villain Stephen Conroy comes up with top spin
  • Brian Holland's 2005 'Inherently Dangerous: The Potential For An Internet-Specific Standard Restricting Speech That Performs a Teaching Function' in 39 University of San Francisco Law Review 353–406,
  • Liezl Pangilinan's 2005 'When A Nation Is At War: A Context Dependent Theory of Free Speech For the Regulation of Weapon Recipes' in 22 Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal 683–721
  • Andrianna Kastanek's 2004 'From Hit Man To A Military Takeover of New York City: The Evolving Effects of Rice v Paladin Enterprises on Internet Censorship' in 99 Northwestern University Law Review 383–440.