An explosive belt (also called suicide belt, suicide vest) is an improvised explosive device, a belt or a vest packed with explosives and armed with a detonator, worn by suicide bombers. Explosive belts are usually packed with ball bearings, nails, screws, bolts, and other objects that serve as shrapnel to maximize the number of casualties in the explosion.
The use of suicidal attacks to inflict damage upon an enemy predates the Second World War, in which Kamikaze units (suicidal air attacks) and Kaiten ("living torpedoes") were used to attack Allied forces.
"Explosive belts" (or vests) are an on-foot version of such attacks.
The explosive belt usually consists of several cylinders filled with explosive (de facto pipe bombs), or in more sophisticated versions with plates of explosive. The explosive is surrounded by a fragmentation jacket that produces the shrapnel responsible for most of the bomb's lethality, effectively making the jacket a crude, body-worn, claymore mine. Once the vest is detonated, the explosion resembles an omnidirectional shotgun blast. The most dangerous and the most widely used shrapnel are steel balls 3 to 7 millimetres (0.12 to 0.28 in) in diameter. Other shrapnel material can be anything of suitable size and hardness, most often nails, screws, nuts, and thick wire. Shrapnel is responsible for about 90% of all casualties caused by this kind of device.
A "loaded" vest may weigh between 5 to 20 kilograms (11 to 44 lb) and may be hidden under thick clothes, usually jackets or snow coats.
There are several explosives in common use in the Middle East. C-4 (a type of plastic explosive) is one of the more potent, but also the rarest because it is the most difficult to obtain. Increased crackdowns by the Palestinian Authority led to the arrest of most skilled explosive makers and made smuggling more difficult, leading to less common use of trinitrotoluene(TNT). Its replacement has been the much less stable and more dangerous, but easy to make, acetone peroxide (TATP), known as Mother of Satan for its instability. This shift led to many casualties among explosive makers as well as nearby civilians, as the clandestine laboratories that produce explosive belts are often located in residential areas, and it is not uncommon to find dozens or even hundreds of kilograms of TATP in a single location during a raid. In some constructions, TATP is used only for the initiator, and the explosive itself is a homemade mixture similar to Ammonal.
A suicide vest may cover the entire stomach and usually has shoulder straps.
A common security drill against suspected suicide bombers is to isolate the suspect to at least 15 metres (49 ft) away from other people, and ask him to remove his upper clothing (coat, shirt, etc.) in order to see if there is an explosive vest strapped under them. This drill is problematic when dealing with female suicide bombers[opinion]. Alternatively, an infrared detector can be used.
Suicide bombers who wear the vests are often obliterated by the explosion; the best evidence of their identity is the head, which often survives because it is separated and thrown clear off the body by the explosion. The journalist Joby Warrick conjectured: "The vest's tight constraints and the positioning of the explosive pouches would channel the energy of the blast outward, toward whoever stood directly in front of him. Some of that energy wave would inevitably roll upward, ripping the bomber's body apart at its weakest point, between the neck bones and lower jaw. It accounts for the curious phenomenon in which suicide bombers' heads are severed clean at the moment of detonation and are later found in a state of perfect preservation several yards away from the torso's shredded remains".
- Car bomb
- Suicide attack
- Groups using explosive belts:
- "Taming the Tamil Tigers". Federal Bureau of Investigation. fbi.gov. 2008-10-01. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
- AFP/NEWSCORE "Ugandan police find suicide vest, hunts suspects". July 13, 2010, New York Post. Retrieved ?
- Joby Warrick, The Triple Agent, New York: Doubleday, 2011. p. 151