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The leaflet bomb, also somtimes known as pamphlet bomb, propaganda bomb or ideological bomb is a technology for disseminating airborne leaflet propaganda developed during WWII.


American soldier loading a leaflet bomb during the Korean War

The first ideas to construct special bombs with which to disperse airborne leaflets was put forward by French and British air force officers during World War II but it was not implemented until 1943 by the American military in the form of the 'Monroe bomb' named after its inventor the USA Air Force Captain James Monroe of the 305th BG. It was developed from laminated paper containers that had been used used to transport M-17 incendiary bombs [1]

Later during the Korean war a modified version of the leaflet bomb - the 'feather bomb' - was developed by the American military to be used to disseminate biological warfare agents. It was also controversially claimed by the Chinese government - and supported by an United Nations commission led by the British biochemist and historian of science Joseph Needham - that US had actually used biological weapons during the Korean War. This has been strongly denied by the US governments and in 1998 evidence was found in Russian archieves that supported that this was a falsehood concocted by the Chinese and Soviet governments.[2]

Leaflet bombs and terrorism[edit]

Leaflet bombs has not only been used by states for purposes of military warfare but has since the 1940s also been used by radical political and ideological substate groups known for using anti-state terrorism. The meaning of terrorism used here follows what can be described as the new academic consensus definition i.e. that terrorism is ”a politically motivated tactic involving the threat or use of force or violence in which the pursuit of publicity plays a significant role”.[3]

Historian of terrorism David Rapoport have developed one of the most well used models of modern terroriosm dividing it in four waves [4]. The leaflet bombs has been used by terrorist groups mainly belonging to the second 'anti-colonial' and third 'new left' waves of rebel terrorism.

Anti-Colonial Terrorism in Asia and Africa[edit]

The use of leaflet bombs by non-state terrorist groups began in 1945 when the Irgun group developed a bomb that was not dropped from planes but "deposited in the street, ticked away until detonation, then scattered news sheet over a wide and smoky area". In September 1945 three of Irguns leaflet bombs exploded in Jersusalem and injured nine people.[5]

In the late 1960s the African National Congress (ANC) started to use a version of the leaflet bomb in South Africa. This bomb was developed in collaboration with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and South Africans living in exile in London. The first time this leaflet bomb, known to South African activists as the 'bucket bomb' and to the South African police forces as the 'ideological bomb', was used was in 1967.[6] This was one of the most important propaganda weapons of the ANC as can be seen by the resources devoted to it and its frequent use during the 1960s and 1970s spreading tens of thousands of leaflets. ANC hailed it publically as a central technology in their efforts as shown by this quote from ANC:s journal Sechaba in 1970 looking back at the uses of leaflets as propaganda in the 1960s:

"It was in this new period that underground propaganda, demonstrating the effectiveness of the ANC machinery and projecting its voice, became of incalculable value. Underground leaflets began to appear in the townships, factories and city streets. Passed on from hand to hand, these reminded the people that the spirit of resistance must never die. These were often complemented by slogans painted on walls proclaiming: "Free Mandela," "Free Sisulu" and "Long Live the ANC." as modest as these propaganda efforts were [...] they showed that the ANC could survive the most severe measures of the regime."[7] [Emphasis added]

Furthermore, the South African press and security forces also saw it as a very important weapon of the ANC as can be evidenced by the threats from the police to take action against the South African press for publishing parts of ANC:s leaflets. The South African Minister of Police even acknowledged publicly that the importance of ANC:s leaflet bombs when he was quoted in an South African newspaper stating that "the explosions are an indication that subversive elements are still active" inside South Africa and warned the "public" that they "must not think the dangers are a thing of the past. It is something with which we will just have to live."[8] As this statement makes clear the South African police saw this as a weapon causing and indicating a terror among the public. In that sense the leaflet bombs and its words were weapons of terrorism as its effects were seen as creating a widespread fear. INTERPRETATIONS & ANALYSIS

New Left Terrorism in Latin America[edit]

The leaflet bomb has been relatively popular in Latin America with several recorded uses of various groups advocating political violence and using terrorist tactics.

In the 1980s the FMLN in El Salvador used this technology under the name of 'propaganda bomb'. It was one of the "favorite tactics" of its urban militia groups and preferable used in public places like markets or public parks.[9] The design of the bomb was adapted to the local environment in that it

"consisted of a cardboard box with a small, low-power explosive underneath a large number of propaganda leaflets. The explosive was set off by a homemade time igniter. The box was disguised to look like any ordinary package or box that might be carried by someone going or returning from a trip to the marketplace."[10]

The use of leaflet bombs played a part in the FMLN:s recruitment process known to them as fogueo - which meant to experience fire or fire-harden something - which was the process by which the recruits "were toughened and the weak and fainthearted were weeded out". The fogueo process was

"a very carefully designed program of increasingly risky operations in support of the guerilla movement. As the candidates successfully completed each operation, it gave them confidence to carry out the next danger level of operation until they became full-fledged guerilla combatants."[11]

This process began with low-level information-gathering and propgandan activities in support of FMLN where the culminating activity before being ready for "combat military activity" could be the making and exploding of a leaflet bomb.[12]

In Honduras the Popular Movement for Liberation (MPL) and Morazanist Patriotic Front (FPM) have also used propaganda bombs during the 1990s.[13]

In Ecuador several terrorist group have used leaflet bombs. The Revolutionary Armed Corps (CAR) was according to the Ecudorian police "an extreme leftist group" which is only known for one attempted attack on February 20, 2001 when a leaflet bomb containing 150 pamphlets was discovered and successfully defused by the police.[14] The communist Group of Popular Combatants (GCP) has on several occasions during 2001-2005 used leaflet bombs. In 2001 it was blamed by authorities for a pamphlet bomb and later the same year the group claimed responsibility for detonating a pamphlet bomb in downtown Quito that let out hundreds of pamphlets protesting against Plan Colombia.[15] In 2002 The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Ecuador set off a leaflet bomb in a McDonald’s restaurant in Guayaquil that injured three people and caused severe damage to the property.


  1. ^ Garnett 1947:189-190, Willey 2002:55
  2. ^ Leitenberg 1998
  3. ^ Weinberg et al. 2004:786
  4. ^ Rapoport 1994
  5. ^ Bell 1985:144
  6. ^ Houston 2004:635-637
  7. ^ Ngami 1976:39
  8. ^ Quoted in Ngami 1976:44
  9. ^ Bracamonte & Spencer, 1995:68
  10. ^ Bracamonte & Spencer, 1995:68-69
  11. ^ Bracamonte & Spencer, 1995:70
  12. ^ Bracamonte & Spencer, 1995:70
  13. ^ Weinberg & Pedahzur, 2004:135-136; MIPT knowledge base,
  14. ^
  15. ^ United States Department of State Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2005 (2006), 165.


  • Bell, J. Bowyer (1977), Terror Out of Zion: The Fight fort Israeli Independence 1929-1949: Irgun Zvai Leumi, Lehi and the Palestine Underground, The Academy Press Dublin . SINGLE-AUTHORED BOOK
  • Garnett, David A. (1947), The Secret History of PWE: The Political Warfare Executive 1939-1945, St Ermins Press. 2002.AUTHOR DATE DIFFERENT FROM PUBLICATION
  • Houston, Gregory (2004), "The Post-Rivonia ANC/SACP Underground", in The Road to Democracy in South Africa. Vol 1. (1960-1970) South African Democracy Education Trust. Zebra Press. ARTICLE/CHAPTER IN ANTHOLOGY
  • Leitenberg, Milton (1998), "New Russian Evidence on the Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations: background and analysis", Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 11 (4), pp. 185–199 . ARTICLE IN JOURNAL
  • Moroni Bracamonte, José Angel; Spencer, David (1995), Strategy and Tactics of the Salvadoran FMLN Guerillas: Last Battle of the Cold War, Blueprint for Future Conflicts, Praeger Publishers . TWO AUTHORS
  • Ngani, Jethro (1976), "Voice of Freedom", Sechaba, 10 (4), pp. 38–44 .
  • Willey, Scott A (2002), "Secret Squadrons of the Eigth", Air Power History, 49 (3), pp. 54–55 .
  • United States Department of State (2006)Country Reports on Terrorism 2005. United States Department of State: Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
  • Weinberg, Leonard, Ami Pedahzur & Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler (2004) ”The Challenges of Conceptualizing Terrorism”, Terrorism and Political Violence, 16(4), 777-794.
  • Weinberg, Leonard B.; Pedahzur, Ami (2004), Political Parties and Terrorist Groups, Taylor & Francis Group .