Surgically implanted explosive device

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A surgically implanted improvised explosive device (SIIED) is an explosive device hidden inside the body of a person in order to commit a suicide attack. This type of terrorist weapon, more commonly known as Body Cavity Bomb (BCB),[1] is only known to have been used once, in a failed assassination attempt.

2009 attack on Prince Muhammad bin Nayef[edit]

In August 2009 Abdullah al-Asiri, the younger brother of Ibrahim al-Asiri, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's chief bomb-maker tried to assassinate a Saudi prince Muhammad bin Nayef with a bomb, later identified as a 'Body Cavity Bomb' (BCB).[1] Al-Asiri absorbed most of the blast, which killed him instantly. Bin Nayef escaped with only minor injuries.

Media speculation[edit]

In May 2012, various reporters leaked their acquisition of documents describing the preparation and use of such devices.[2][3][4] According to The Daily Mirror in the UK, security officials at MI-6 asserted that female bombers could travel undetected carrying the explosive chemicals in otherwise standard breast implants.[5] The bomber would blow up the implanted explosives by injecting a chemical trigger.[4]


The concept of a surgically implanted improvised explosive device (SIIED) is derived from the Body Cavity Bomb (BCB) concept enunciated by Robert J. Bunker, a research associate at the Terrorism Research Center. Bunker's work for the last few years, has been on assessing the potential use of body cavity bombs (BCB) or body cavity suicide bombs (BCSB) as a variation of suicide bombing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).[6][7]

The term SIIED was used in a Newsweek article in May 2012[2] which described it as an "explosive device hidden inside the body of a person in order to commit a suicide attack." However, it should be noted that, currently the United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms, only recognizes the acronym 'IED (improvised explosive device)'.[8]

Bunker's 2011 report[6] largely originated with the 2005 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) training keys on Suicide (Homicide) Bombers: “No recorded use of cavity bombs (i.e., in the stomach, rectum, or vagina) exists, but this tactic represents a potential threat.”[9] The author recognized early on the iterated offensive and defensive dynamic of suicide bomber and security force countermeasures and saw the offensive potentials inherent in an explosive device carried by a suicide bomber secreted inside of the human body.[1] This resulted in a non-public disclosure series of presentations on projected BCB employment that took place between September 2006 and August 2008 in the United States and later in the United Kingdom. These presentations were resumed between October 2009 and February 2010 as a by-product of the first recorded use of a BCB device by Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula in August 2009.[1] This was the attack, on 28 August, where a suicide bomber blew himself up in Jeddah during a Ramadan gathering that included Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, head of the security services. It was the first attempt on the life of a royal since the murder of King Faisal in 1975. The prince was treated at a hospital and released. This incident was the subject of two specific studies:

  • Europol. (2010) The Concealment of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Rectal Cavities. SC5 - Counter Terrorism Unit. The Hague, 18 September 2010 ( EDOC#418506_v4).
  • Bunker, R.J. (2011) The Projected Al Qaeda Use of Body Cavity Suicide Bombs Against High Value Targets. GroupIntel Occasional Paper (March 2011).

2010 Europol analysis[edit]

The 27 August 2009 suicide bomber attack on the Assistant Interior Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, used a BCB type-weapon. This was an IED inserted into the bomber’s rectum. Activated, once the bomber was close to the Prince Muhammad, the prince was nevertheless only ‘lightly-injured’ in this attack. The aftermath of the Nayef attack seems to confirm that the blast event is largely contained by the attacker’s own body (who was later identified as al-Asiri). Europol have assessed the possible use of the BCB, and made the following findings:[1]

  • It would be possible to explode a device concealed in the rectum.
  • Activation by radio-frequency seems to be likely.
  • Concealing an IED in the rectum would limit the amount of explosive available.

Europol found as well—"should there be conclusive proof that the attack took place with an IED concealed inside the perpetrator’s body", it would definitely have an impact in aviation safety and the current standard operational procedures in place should be reviewed.

Tactical critiques and post-analysis[edit]

The BCB is an explosive device inserted within a human being or an animal,[10] with the view to hiding it from detection. It involves "new tactics, techniques or procedures (TTPs)." Concerning the BCB tactical evolution: "Suicide bombings (human- and vehicle-borne) have been a staple of terrorist strategy and tactics. They provide a means of low-cost precision targeting that amplifies casualties and ensures the attacks are noticed. As countermeasures (weapons screening, searches, etc.) become more effective, a shift in targeting and/or TTPs is a likely terrorist adaptation."[10]

Tactically speaking, the use and employment of the BCB falls into a category of tactics known as ‘in-situ’ attacks.[11][12] The factors which could thwart the effective use of the BCB, are:

  • By its very nature, as a weapon it is intended for closed-in attacks (the attacker carrying the device has to be in direct contact with the target);
  • This is because the blast yield, has been shown to be low, to negligible.[1]
  • The attacker, to be successful, has to enact an ‘in situ’ attack, physically placing their body against the target, and initiating the device.

The other constraint is that this weapon likely decreases in effect if used outdoors, as indoors closed environments offer the best physical possible properties, where blast-reflection is a factor in confinement. Thus, as can be seen, the very factors that make the BCB effective are also highly limiting.

2012–2013 post-analysis research[edit]

The 2012–2013 post-analysis research has enunciated tactical propositions that limit the effect of the BCB, and its "tactical use of the BCB is limited to a specific set of circumstances".[1]

  • This is dictated by its extremely low blast capacity as a consequence of the limited yield of these weapons, namely size and concealment constraints; as well as,
  • The likely lack of fragmentation from ‘hard’ casings (again a consequence of the need for greater concealment).

The likely employment of the BCB will be in circumstances where the attacker will attempt a one-on-one attack, specifically on an individual or object (such as an airplane’s critical control system), in a ‘close-in’ attack, requiring physical contact with the victim/target.[1] However, "the BCB may also ultimately develop into a purely terror, or a ‘protest horror’ weapon; the impact of which has less to do with its overall effectiveness, and more to do with its grotesqueness—a weapon designed to invite horror and revulsion."[1]

Airport security scanning methods[edit]

A summary of body scanning techniques for airport security reveals that the BCB can evade most of the commonly used sensor strategies. For instance, the current operational methods are:[1]

  • Metal Detector: The detectability of a BCB is subject to the sensitivity of the detector and metal content of the BCB. High sensitivity leads to high false alarm rates, making detection problematic. Security personnel need to be aware of the BCB threat, in order to interpret the signal from a handheld metal detector correctly.
  • Millimeter Wave Scanner, or ‘mmW-scanner’: These are unable to penetrate skin, and cannot detect a BCB. They could eventually detect a device used to ignite a BCB, if interpreted correctly.
  • X-ray Transmission Scanners: These have a very high detection probability. However, the scan is carcinogenic, therefore it is not being used in airport security. These machines exist in some U.S. prisons and proved their capability to detect objects hidden in body cavities.
  • Puffer machine (explosives trace detection machine): This could detect explosives in rectal, vaginal, and oral cavities, but not implanted explosives. It can detect traces of explosives, if the terrorist has been in contact with them before implantation. At least two different detection mechanisms exist: (i) ion mobility spectrometry and (ii) mass spectrometry.
  • Backscatter X-ray: This gives a much lower radiation dose than transmission scanners and penetrates skin slightly but not sufficiently to detect a BCB reliably. Possible health effects are still being debated.

Future detection strategies[edit]

In the case of sensor strategies under development, such as the Radiometric Scanner, these are unable to penetrate skin and cannot detect a BCB. These could eventually detect a device used to ignite one, if interpreted correctly. Several other methods can also be considered and for example include:[1]

  • Thermal Scanner (passive infrared): The BCB would most likely obstruct heat transfer to the body surface and could therefore be detected by a thermal scanner. However, for some reason, this technique does not seem to be discussed for airport security screening, but is only applied in medical imaging.
  • Active Infrared Scanner: Currently under development as a stand-off scanner for U.S. Police, it is unable to penetrate skin, and cannot detect a BCB.
  • Ultrasonography: This would detect a BCB with very high probability. However, it is too-time consuming for a primary scan. Therefore, it is only used in medical imaging.
  • Magnetic Resonance Tomography: Would detect a BCB with very high probability. High magnetic fields would dislocate or even pull out iron parts of the BCB or painfully heat up any other metal. The same holds true for any other metallic implant. Even more time consuming than ultrasonography, it is therefore, only used in medical imaging.

Canine detection[edit]

Dogs may be able to detect explosives in rectal, vaginal, or oral cavities, but not implanted explosives. Dogs can also detect traces of explosives if the terrorist has been in contact with them before implantation. However, they are subject to exhaustion. Additionally, issues exist concerning canine training procedures, as most bomb dogs are trained to ‘alert’ on items and not on individuals for detecting explosive material residues.

Physical detection[edit]

Physical examinations can detect a BCB with a medium-high probability. In practical terms, this is time consuming for a primary scan. This method is more than likely to be challenged by privacy groups, in particular, the issue of violation of a potentially pregnant woman.

Future technology detection capacity[edit]

It has also been speculated that there appears to be a partial overlap between mm wave radar and terahertz radar. Some of the public source information suggests that there are some possibilities for terahertz radar, which lies between mm wave radar and long infra-red in the electromagnetic spectrum. Namely, there is at least some penetration with terahertz radar as it is used for thickness and density measurement and biomedical scanning, and is suggested for detecting weapons under clothing. It can detect specific chemicals, including explosives, in vapour phase by the adsorption spectra. This should be able to detect explosives vapours inside a sealed package, provided there is some air void in the package when sealed. Some prototypes for area security scanning have been tested in the field, but the results as not publicly known. The capabilities appear to be better than given for mm wave radar. Ideally, a fully developed terahertz radar system might have the sensitivity of ultrasonic scanning, positive identification of explosives chemicals, and non-contact scanning as well as reducing the inconvenience to travellers. However, such a development may be far in the future.

Factors affecting surgically implanted device deployment[edit]

The BCB primarily involves a device inserted into a body opening.[1] As well, the idea of creating a surgically implanted IED (improvised explosive device), placed within a body, with the explosives detonated by injecting a chemical trigger, has been frequently discussed in news reporting, including media claims, that such a medical procedure to place a BCB inside a person or an animal, has been perfected.[5] However, this possibility has been extensively reviewed in research literature on terrorism TTPs, which has concluded, that while this may give a much higher blast yield capability; such a procedure nevertheless:[1]

  • Involves a complex medical procedure (which may not be successful).
  • Likely need for recuperation time (weeks in some cases, in particular time to allow surgical scaring to fade).
  • Requires highly developed medical facilities, including a substantial medico-logistical support capability.
  • High likelihood of the patient dying, as a result of the procedure.
  • As well, medical complications where the container to hold everything together, as well as provide a barrier to the carrier’s body from the toxic exposure to the explosives used, breaches.

In popular culture[edit]

The BCB has a long history in science fiction writing and film history. Notwithstanding, in conventional security thinking, it has been noted, that: "placing bombs inside live human beings was still definitely not on the radar", prior to 2009.[1]
The concept of the BCB has been regularly used as a theatrical–plot device in many popular TV shows and movies since at least the late 1960s (and perhaps earlier), and a number of popular U.S. films and television series episodes have featured the BCB, "ironically illustrating many of the key tactical concepts herein—that is, it is hidden in the human body, camouflaged from intelligence sensors, and used for attacks on specific targets".[1] For example:

  • The U.S. film, Death Race 2000, a 1975 cult action film, in which one of the characters called ‘Frankenstein’ intends to assassinate the president by planning to shake his hand, detonating a grenade which has been implanted in the perpetrator’s prosthetic right hand (who calls it his ‘hand grenade’).
  • The 1990 science fiction television episode ‘Reunion’—the 81st in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation (original air date of 5 November 1990)—features a BCB, used in an attempted assassination. The plot involves a dramatized discovery by medical staff that one of those killed after the detonation of the bomb actually had a powerful micro explosive hidden in his arm, sufficiently powerful to kill another person present in the room at the time of the explosion. The elements of the plot involved a BCB hidden and undetected (from security sensors) inside a person’s arm, requiring them to stand close to their intended target.
  • The 2001 U.S. science fiction movie Impostor features the use of BCBs. Set in the year 2079, the film’s plot revolves around human 'replicants', created by hostile aliens, which are perfect biological copies of existing humans, complete with transplanted memories. This allows the 'replicants' to approach their targets camouflaged from detection. Each has a small, organic nuclear bomb in place of a heart, programmed to detonate when they are in proximity to their target.
  • The British television series Spooks features in its season 3 finale a woman carrying a chemical BCB in an attempt to murder the prime minister, the bomb contained in her stomach to avoid discovery.
  • Denzel Washington's 2004 movie Man on Fire from features a BCB used to torture a victim. Washington plays a character who, in one particular scene, traps a corrupt police officer (Fuentes), and rectally inserts a five-minute timed bomb into him while he is restrained face down. This is done to terrorize Fuentes into giving information. After he gets this information, the protagonist walks away and leaves the bomb inside Fuentes to detonate.
  • The 2008 Batman film, The Dark Knight, also featured a BCB. In that film, a fictional scenario was portrayed where the Joker blew up a police station by means of a cell-phone activated bomb sewn into an unwilling victim's stomach.
  • The novel Eve of Destruction by Sylvia Day features several female protagonists who have been implanted with BCB devices.
  • The 2009 war film The Hurt Locker features a BCB when a young Iraqi boy is found to have been surgically implanted with an unexploded bomb.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Bunker, R.J. Flaherty, C. (2013) Body Cavity Bombers: The NewMartyrs. A Terrorism Research Center Book. iUniverse, Inc. Bloomington, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Daniel Klaidman, Christopher Dickey (2012-05-14). "Ibrahim al-Asiri: The Body Bomb Menace". Daily Beast. Retrieved 2012-05-14. Newsweek has learned that U.S. intelligence officials circulated a secret report that laid out in vivid detail how doctors working for al-Asiri had developed the surgical technique. An American government source familiar with the report described it as 15 to 20 pages, single spaced, and replete with schematics and pictures. “It was almost like something you’d see in Scientific American,” the source said.  mirror
  3. ^ David Pescovitz (2012-05-14). "You da bomb! (surgically-implanted explosives)". Boing boing. Retrieved 2012-05-14. According to Newsweek, US intelligence officials report that al Qaeda's explosives expert Ibrahim al-Asiri and medical doctors have been designing bombs to be surgically implanted into the bodies of suicide bombers. The idea is that the technique would somehow foil airport scanners. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You da bomb!"  mirror
  4. ^ a b Anissa Haddadi (2012-05-14). "Al-Qaida’s ‘Body Bombs’ increase Fears of Global Attacks by Master Bomb-Maker Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri". International Business Times. Retrieved 2012-05-14. Experts and intelligence sources say the terrorists could use the powerful explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate, known as PETN and insert it in the bodies of would-be suicide bombers. According to reports they would then be able to detonate the implanted explosives via injections. The bombs would not be detectable to airport body scanner, increasing risks of attacks similar to the 2011 September attack on the Twin Towers in New York and on the Pentagon.  mirror
  5. ^ a b "Breast bombers: Doctors trained to plant explosives inside chest of female suicide bombers". The Daily Mirror. 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2012-05-14. MI6 chiefs believe doctors have been trained to plant explosives inside the breasts of female suicide bombers.  mirror
  6. ^ a b Robert J. Bunker. (2011) The Projected Al Qaeda Use of Body Cavity Suicide Bombs Against High Value Targets.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Bunker, R.J. (2005) Training Keys #581 & 582: Suicide (Homicide) Bombers.Alexandria, VA: International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), 2005.
  10. ^ a b Bunker. R.J. (2011) The Projected Al Qaeda Use of Body Cavity Suicide Bombs Against High Value Targets. GroupIntel Occasional Paper (March 2011).
  11. ^ Flaherty, C. (2009) 2D Verses 3D Tactical Supremacy in Urban Operations. Journal of Information Warfare. (8)2: 16-24.
  12. ^ Flaherty, C. Green, A.R. (2011) 15 Meters/11 Seconds. Journal of Information Warfare. (10)2: 22-37.