Car bomb

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The result of a car bombing during the Iraq War

A car bomb, bus bomb, van bomb, lorry bomb, or truck bomb, also known as a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED),[1] is an improvised explosive device designed to be detonated in an automobile or other vehicles.

Car bombs can be roughly divided into two main categories: those used primarily to kill the occupants of the vehicle (often as an assassination) and those used as a means to kill, injure or damage people and buildings outside the vehicle. The latter type may be parked (the vehicle disguising the bomb and allowing the bomber to get away), or the vehicle might be used to deliver the bomb (often as part of a suicide bombing).

It is commonly used as a weapon of terrorism or guerrilla warfare to kill people near the blast site or to damage buildings or other property. Car bombs act as their own delivery mechanisms and can carry a relatively large amount of explosives without attracting suspicion. In larger vehicles and trucks, weights of around 7,000 pounds (3,200 kg) or more have been used,[1] for example, in the Oklahoma City bombing. Car bombs are activated in a variety of ways, including opening the vehicle's doors, starting the engine, remote detonation, depressing the accelerator or brake pedals or simply lighting a fuse or setting a timing device.[2] The gasoline in the vehicle's fuel tank may make the explosion of the bomb more powerful by dispersing and igniting the fuel.

As a delivery system[edit]

Car bomb in Iraq, made up of a number of artillery shells concealed in the back of a pickup truck.

Car bombs are effective weapons as they are an easy way to transport a large amount of explosives to the intended target. A car bomb also produces copious shrapnel, or flying debris, and secondary damage to bystanders and buildings. In recent years, car bombs have become widely used by suicide bombers.[3][4][5]


Defending against a car bomb involves keeping vehicles at a distance from vulnerable targets by using roadblocks and checkpoints, Jersey barriers, concrete blocks or bollards, metal barriers, or by hardening buildings to withstand an explosion. The entrance to Downing Street in London has been closed since 1991 in reaction to the Provisional Irish Republican Army campaign, preventing the general public from getting near Number 10. Where major public roads pass near buildings, road closures may be the only option (thus, for instance, in Washington, D.C. the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue immediately in front of the White House is closed to traffic). Historically these tactics have encouraged potential bombers to target "soft" or unprotected targets, such as markets.[6]

Suicide usage[edit]

In the Iraqi and Syrian Civil War, the car bomb concept was modified so that it could be driven and detonated by a driver, but armoured to withstand incoming fire. The vehicle would be driven to its target area, in a similar fashion to a kamikaze plane of WW2. These were known by the acronym SVBIED (from Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) or VBIEDs. This saw generally civilian cars with armour plating added, that would protect the car for as long as possible, so that it could reach its intended target. Cars were sometimes driven into enemy troop areas, or into incoming enemy columns. Most often, the SVBIEDs were used by ISIL against Government forces, but also used by Syrian rebels (FSA and allied militias, especially the Al-Nusra Front) against government troops.[7]

The vehicles have become more sophisticated, with armour plating on the vehicle, protected vision slits, armour plating over the wheels so they would withstand being shot at, and also in some cases, additional metal grating over the front of the vehicle designed to crush or destroy shaped charges such as those used on rocket propelled grenades.[8]

A mock explosion of a pickup truck converted to SVBIED, used by U.S. marines for OPFOR purposes at Camp Pendleton

In some cases trucks were also used as well as cars. They were sometimes used to start an assault. Generally the vehicles had a large space that would contain very heavy explosives. In some cases, animal drawn carts with improvised explosive devices have been used, generally either mules or horses.[citation needed] Tactically, a single vehicle may be used, or an initial "breakthrough" vehicle, then followed by another vehicle.[9]

While many car bombs are disguised as ordinary vehicles,[10] some that are used against military forces have improvised vehicle armour attached to prevent the driver from being shot when attacking a fortified outpost.[11]


Car bombs are preceded by the 16th century hellburners, explosive-laden ships which were used to deadly effect by the besieged Dutch forces in Antwerp against the besieging Spanish. Though using a less refined technology, the basic principle of the hellburner is similar to that of the car bomb.

The first reported suicide car bombing (and possibly the first suicide bombing) was the Bath School bombings of 1927, where 45 people, including the bomber, were killed and half of a school was blown up.

Mass-casualty car bombing, and especially suicide car bombing, is currently a predominantly Middle Eastern phenomenon. The tactic was first introduced to the region by the Zionist paramilitary organization Lehi, who used it extensively against Palestinian and British civilian and military targets; it was subsequently taken up by Palestinian militants as well.[12] The tactic was used in the Lebanese Civil War by the Shia militia group Hezbollah. A notable suicide car bombing was the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, when two simultaneous attacks killed 241 U.S. and 58 French peacekeepers. The perpetrator of these attacks has never been positively confirmed. In the Lebanese Civil War, an estimated 3,641 car bombs were detonated.[13]

While not an adaptation of a people-carrying vehicle, the WW2 German Goliath remote control mine, shares many parallels with a vehicle-based IED. It approached a target (often a tank or another armoured vehicle) at some speed, and then exploded, destroying itself and the target. It was armoured so that it could not be destroyed en route. However, it was not driven by a person, instead operated by remote control from a safe distance.

As a booby trap[edit]


TSA officers view the post-blast remains of a Dodge Neon after an explosive was detonated inside it during training.

Car bombs and detonators function in a diverse manner of ways and there are numerous variables in the operation and placement of the bomb within the vehicle. Earlier and less advanced car bombs were often wired to the car's ignition system, but this practice is now considered more laborious and less effective than other more recent methods, as it required a greater amount of work for a system that could often be quite easily defused. While it is more common nowadays for car bombs to be fixed magnetically to the underside of the car, underneath the passenger or driver's seat, or inside of the mudguard, detonators triggered by the opening of the vehicle door or by pressure applied to the brakes or accelerating pedals are also used.[2]

Bombs operating by the former method of fixation to the underside of the car more often than not make use of a device called a tilt fuse. A small tube made of glass or plastic, the tilt fuse is not dissimilar to a mercury switch or medical tablet tube. One end of the fuse will be filled with mercury, while the other open end is wired with the ends of an open circuit to an electrical firing system. Naturally, when the tilt fuse moves or is jerked, the supply of mercury will flow to the top of the tube and close the circuit. Thus, as the vehicle goes through the regular bumping and dipping that comes with driving over a terrain, the circuit is completed and the bomb or explosive is allowed to function.[2]

As a safety mechanism to protect the bomber, the placer of the bomb may rig a timing device incorporated with the circuit to activate the circuit only after a certain time period, therefore ensuring the bomber will not accidentally activate the bomb before they are able to get clear of the blast radius.[2]


Prior to the 20th century, bombs planted in horse carts had been used in assassination plots, notably in the unsuccessful "machine infernale" attempt to kill Napoleon on 24 December 1800.

The first car bomb may have been the one used for the assassination attempt on Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1905 in Istanbul by Armenian separatists, in the command of Papken Siuni belonging to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Car bombing was a significant part of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) campaign during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Dáithí Ó Conaill is credited with introducing the car bomb to Northern Ireland.[14] Car bombs were also used by Ulster loyalist groups (for example, by the UVF during the Dublin and Monaghan bombings).[15][16][17]

PIRA Chief of Staff Seán Mac Stíofáin defines the car bomb as both a tactical and a strategic guerrilla weapon. Strategically, it disrupts the ability of the enemy government to administer the country, and hits simultaneously at the core of its economic structure by means of massive destruction. From a tactical point of view, it ties down a large number of security forces and troops around the main urban areas of the region in conflict.[18]


20th century[edit]

Vietcong car bombing aftermath scene in Saigon, 1965.
  • The Viet Cong guerrillas used them throughout the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • The OAS used them at the end of the French rule in Algeria in 1961 and 1962.
  • The Sicilian Mafia used them to assassinate independent magistrates starting in the 1960s and up to the early 1990s.
  • The IRA used them frequently during its 1960s to 1990s campaign during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and England. The 1998 Omagh bombing by the Real IRA, an IRA splinter group, caused the most casualties in the Troubles from a single car bomb. Loyalist organisations in Northern Ireland of the 1960s and 1970s such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association used car bombs against civilians in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The 1974 UVF bombs in Dublin and Monaghan[19][20] caused the most casualties in a single day during the Troubles.
  • Former Chilean General Carlos Prats was killed by a car bomb on September 30, 1974, along with his wife.
  • Freelance terrorist Carlos the Jackal claimed responsibility for three car bomb attacks on French newspapers accused of pro-Israeli bias during the 1970s.
  • Cleveland mobster Danny Greene frequently used car bombs against his enemies, beginning in 1968. Afterwards, they also began to be used against Greene and his associates. The use of car bombs in Cleveland peaked in 1976, when 36 bombs exploded in the city, most of them car bombs, causing it to be nicknamed "Bomb City." Several people, including innocent bystanders, were killed or wounded. Greene himself was finally killed in a car bomb explosion himself, on October 6, 1977.
  • Agents of the Chilean intelligence agency DINA were convicted of using car bombs to assassinate Orlando Letelier in 1976 and Carlos Prats in 1974, who were exiled opponents of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Letelier was killed in Sheridan Circle, in the heart of Embassy Row in Washington, D.C.[21]
  • The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka frequently made use of car bombs during that country's civil war in a campaign which lasted from 1976 until the group's defeat in 2009.
  • From 1979 to early 1983, under the guise of the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners, Israel Defense Forces commanders Rafael Eitan, Avigdor Ben-Gal and Meir Dagan launched a campaign of bombings, including car, bicycle, and even donkey bombs. Initially conducted as a response to the killing of Israeli civilians at Nahariya. Largely indiscriminate in its targeting of those associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization in south, Lebanon, the FLLF attacks killed hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese, mainly in Tyre, Lebanon, Sidon and the surrounding PLO run refugee camps. After 1981, as part of Ariel Sharon's policy of goading the PLO into committing more acts of terror, justifying a military response, FLLF attacks escalated in intensity and scope, spreading to Beirut and northern Lebanon by September. The FLLF even took credit for fictional attacks on the IDF to maintain its cover as a Lebanese organisation.[22] Its most prominent attack on October 1, 1981, in West Beirut killed at least 50 and injured over 250 people. Seven other similar bombs were found and defused before they could explode.[23]
  • The German Red Army Faction occasionally used car bombs, such as in an unsuccessful attempt to attack a NATO school for officers in 1984.
  • The Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) attempted their first car bomb assassination in September 1985 and carried out at least 80 massive car bomb attacks in Spain during the last decade before putting its activities on hold in 2011.[24]
  • Constable Angela Taylor died on her way to collect lunch, the sole fatality of the Russell Street bombing in Melbourne, Australia on 27 March 1986. 22 others were injured.
  • On 23 November 1986, two members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation carried out the Melbourne Turkish consulate bombing using a car bomb, which resulted in the death of one of the attackers.
  • Suicide car bombs were a regular feature against Israel in the 1982 Lebanon War which lasted from 1982 until Israel's withdrawal in 2000. The bombing campaign was waged by several groups, most prominently Hezbollah.
  • In the 1980s, the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar used vehicle bombs extensively against government forces and population centers in Colombia and Latin America. The most notable car bombing attack was the 1989 DAS Building bombing, which killed 63 and injured about 1,000. Also, on July 4, 1989, a car bomb killed governor of Antioquia Antonio Roldán Betancur and five others; a prominent member of Escobar's Medellin Cartel later confessed to the crime.
  • During the Soviet–Afghan War of the 1980s, at a variety of training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan,[25] the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with the aid of the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Britain's MI6, trained mujahideen in the preparation of car bombs. Car bombs became a regular occurrence during the war, the Afghan civil conflicts which followed, and then during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan from 2001 and the war in Afghanistan ending in 2021.
  • On 26 February 1993, Islamist terrorists led by Ramzi Yousef detonated a Ryder van filled with explosives in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City. Yousef's plan had been to cause one of the towers to collapse into the other, destroying both and killing thousands of people. Although this was not achieved, six people were killed, 1,402 others injured, and extensive damage was caused.
  • On 18 April 1993, a tanker containing 500 kilograms of explosives exploded near the mosque in Vitez, destroying the offices of the Bosnian War Presidency, killing at least six people and injuring 50 others. The ICTY accepted that this action was a piece of pure terrorism committed by elements within the Croat forces, as an attack on the Bosniak population of Stari Vitez - Vitez old town. HVO members tied a Bosniak man, civilian from a concentration camp,  to the steering wheel and set the truck in motion towards the old town.[26]
  • The Quebec Biker War that lasted from 1994 to 2002 involved the use of car bombings, including one that killed a drug dealer and an 11-year-old boy on 9 August 1995.
  • On 19 April 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a Ryder box truck filled with an explosive mixture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil (ANFO) in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City during the Oklahoma City bombing, killing 168 people, including 19 children who were in the daycare.
  • On 25 June 1996, a truck bomb destroyed the Khobar Towers military complex in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 United States Air Force (USAF) personnel and injuring 372 persons of all nationalities.
  • In the late 1990s and early 2000s, vehicular explosives were used by Chechen nationalists against targets in Russia.
  • On 20 April 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned to use two car bombs as the last act of the Columbine High School massacre, apparently to murder first responders. Both failed to explode.

21st century[edit]

Groups that use car bombs[edit]

West Asia[edit]

A 2005 car bombing in Iraq, in which a second car bomb was detonated while US forces were investigating the scene of an earlier such blast, resulting in 18 casualties.



South Asia[edit]

  • Militants and criminals in India occasionally utilize car bombs in attacks. This includes Muslim, Sikh, Kashmiri and Naxalite militants, as well as rival politicians within the government and organized crime. A notable recent attack was the 25 August 2003 Mumbai bombings, in which two car bombs killed 54 people. The attack was claimed by the Pakistani-backed Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
  • The Pakistani Taliban have occasionally used car bombs in their ongoing conflict with the government of Pakistan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs)". Global Security. Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d Wilkinson, Paul; Christop Harman (1993). Technology and terrorism. Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-4552-4.
  3. ^ "2015: an epidemic of suicide bombs | AOAV". AOAV. Action on Armed Violence. 10 August 2015. Archived from the original on 21 September 2017.
  4. ^ Holly, Williams (March 5, 2017). "Reports of suicide car bombs, possible exposure to chemical weapons in Mosul fight". CBS News. Archived from the original on July 7, 2017.
  5. ^ David, Enders (23 June 2015). "Car Bombs Have Become the Islamic State's Assault 'Weapon of Choice' | VICE News". VICE News. VICE News. Archived from the original on 2017-09-21.
  6. ^ See Davis.
  7. ^ IED Vehicle "Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs)". Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2008-08-03.
  8. ^ Trends Institution "Daeshis-armored-vehicle-borne IED" "Daesh/IS Armored Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (AVBIEDs): Insurgent Use and Terrorism Potentials | TRENDS". Archived from the original on 2016-10-30. Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  9. ^ Global Security.Org IED Vehicle "Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs)". Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2008-08-03.
  10. ^ Olson, Dean (2012). Tactical Counterterrorism the Law Enforcement Manual of Terrorism Prevention. Springfield: Charles C Thomas. ISBN 9780398087234. p.166
  11. ^ "Take a look inside an armoured Islamic State car bomb". ABC News. 2 December 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-12-03.
  12. ^ Davis, chapter 4, "Oranges for Jaffa".
  13. ^ "The Atlas Group and Walid Raad - Cornerhouse". Archived from the original on 29 December 2007. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  14. ^ "1973 files reveal senior general's talks with IRA leader". January 2004. Archived from the original on 30 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  15. ^ "The Lewiston Daily Sun - Google News Archive Search".
  16. ^ "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1969".
  17. ^ "February 2014". Come Here To Me!.
  18. ^ McStiofáin, Seán (1975). Revolutionary in Ireland. G. Cremonesi. p. 243.
  19. ^ Car bomb kills Northern Ireland lawyer Archived 2009-09-09 at the Wayback Machine BBC News, 15 March 1999.
  20. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 125–126. ISBN 0-7475-4519-7.
  21. ^ Lettieri, Mike (1 June 2007). "Posada Carriles, Bush's Child of Scorn". Washington Report on the Hemisphere. 27 (7/8).
  22. ^ Bergmen, Ronan (23 January 2018). "How Arafat Eluded Israel's Assassination Machine". The New York Times. New York Times Magazine.
  23. ^ Kifner, John (October 2, 1981). "BOMB AT P.L.O. OFFICE KILLS AT LEAST 50". The New York Times. New York Times.
  24. ^ " | Especial ETA: la dictadura del terror". Archived from the original on August 17, 2009.
  25. ^ Davis, ch. 13, "Car-Bomb University"
  26. ^ "Kordic and Cerkez - Judgement - Part three: IV". Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  27. ^ Gardham, Duncan; Oscarsson, Marcus; Hutchison, Peter (12 December 2010). "Sweden suicide bomber: Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly was living in Britain". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 21 January 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  28. ^ "Daphne Caruana Galizia killed in Bidnija car blast". Times of Malta. 16 October 2017. Archived from the original on 16 October 2017.
  29. ^ "Liverpool explosion: Three arrested under Terrorism Act after car blast at hospital". BBC News. 15 November 2021.
  30. ^ Kilner, James (21 August 2022). "Daughter of 'Putin's Rasputin' Alexander Dugin killed in mystery Moscow car bomb". The Telegraph.
  31. ^ Daniel Swift (4 May 2007). "Explosive reading". Review of: Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. Financial Times. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  32. ^ Ellingwood, Ken (21 October 2010). "Mexico arrests man alleged to have directed fatal Juarez car bomb attack". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  33. ^ "Car bomb explosion followed by shootout in Nuevo Laredo". KGBT-TV. 24 April 2012. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  34. ^ "Reafirma El Chapo presencia en Tamaulipas con coche bomba". Blog del Narco (in Spanish). 24 April 2012. Archived from the original on 27 April 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  35. ^ "Suman 23 ejecutados en Nuevo Laredo, entre decapitados y colgados". Proceso (in Spanish). 4 May 2012. Archived from the original on 7 May 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  36. ^ "200lb of explosives in Derry car bomb". BBC News. 3 August 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-08-22.


  • Mike Davis, Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (Verso: New York, 2007).

External links[edit]