Explosive belt

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For the over-the-shoulder police/military belt, see Sam Browne belt.
Chinese suicide bomber putting on an explosive vest made out of Model 24 hand grenades to use in an attack on Japanese tanks at the Battle of Taierzhuang (1938)
A suicide vest captured by the Israel Defense Forces (2002)

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.


In the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese used suicide bombing against the Japanese with explosive vests. A Chinese soldier detonated a grenade vest and killed 20 Japanese at Sihang Warehouse. Chinese troops strapped explosives like grenade packs or dynamite to their bodies and threw themselves under Japanese tanks to blow them up.[1] This tactic was used during the Battle of Shanghai, where a Chinese suicide bomber stopped a Japanese tank column by exploding himself beneath the lead tank,[2] and at the Battle of Taierzhuang where dynamite and grenades were strapped on by Chinese troops who rushed at Japanese tanks and blew themselves up.[3][4][5][6][7][8] During one incident at Taierzhuang, Chinese suicide bombers obliterated four Japanese tanks with grenade bundles.[9][10]

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. Japanese soldiers routinely attacked Allied tanks carrying antitank mines, magnetic demolition charges, hand grenades, and other explosive devices sacrificing themselves. "Explosive belts" (or vests) are an on-foot version of such attacks.

The use of the explosive belt or vest was popularized by the Tamil separatists of Sri Lanka called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).[11]


A suicide belt captured by the Israel Defense Forces (2006)

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.[citation needed] 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[citation needed], but also the rarest because it is the most difficult to obtain. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, 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[citation needed]. 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 or her to remove his or her upper clothing (coat, shirt, etc.) in order to see if there is an explosive vest strapped under them. While this procedure is relatively uncontroversial for use on males, it may cause an issue when dealing with females suspected to be suicide bombers. Male security personnel may be reluctant to physically inspect females or strip-search them; furthermore, strip-searches which may overlap with sexual harassment.[12] Alternatively, an infrared detector can be used.

The discovery of remains as well as incidentally unexploded belts or vests can offer forensic clues to the investigation after the attack.[13]

Forensic investigation[edit]

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 of 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".[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schaedler, Luc (Accepted in Autumn Semester 2007 On the Recommendation of Prof. Dr. Michael Oppitz). Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet: Literary, Historical, and Oral Sources for a Documentary Film (PDF) (Thesis Presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy). University of Zurich, Faculty of Arts. p. 518. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010/09. Retrieved 24 April 2014.  line feed character in |year= at position 33 (help); Check date values in: |date=, |archive-date= (help)
  2. ^ Harmsen, Peter (2013). Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze (illustrated ed.). Casemate. p. 112. ISBN 161200167X. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  3. ^ "Chinese Tank Forces and Battles before 1949". TANKS! e-Magazine (#4). Summer 2001. Retrieved 2 August 2014.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  4. ^ Xin Hui (1-8-2002). "Xinhui Presents: Chinese Tank Forces and Battles before 1949:". Newsletter 1-8-2002 Articles. Retrieved 2 August 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Ong, Siew Chey (2005). China Condensed: 5000 Years of History & Culture (illustrated ed.). Marshall Cavendish. p. 94. ISBN 9812610677. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Olsen, Lance (2012). Taierzhuang 1938 – Stalingrad 1942. Numistamp (Clear Mind Publishing). ISBN 978-0-9838435-9-7. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  7. ^ "STORM OVER TAIERZHUANG 1938 PLAYER’S AID SHEET" (PDF). grognard.com. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Dr Ong Siew Chey (2011). China Condensed: 5,000 Years of History & Culture (reprint ed.). Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. p. 79. ISBN 9814312991. Retrieved April 24, 2014. 
  9. ^ International Press Correspondence, Volume 18. Richard Neumann. 1938. p. 447. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  10. ^ Epstein, Israel (1939). The people's war. V. Gollancz. p. 172. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "Taming the Tamil Tigers". Federal Bureau of Investigation. fbi.gov. 2008-10-01. Retrieved 2009-03-07. 
  12. ^ Niiler, Eric (Jan 22, 2014). "Sochi Suicide Bomber Threat: Why Terrorists Use Women". Discovery.net. Discovery Communications. Retrieved 2014-04-27. 
  13. ^ AFP/NEWSCORE "Ugandan police find suicide vest, hunts suspects". July 13, 2010, New York Post. Retrieved ?
  14. ^ Joby Warrick, The Triple Agent, New York: Doubleday, 2011. p. 151

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