Explosive belts

Explosive belt

An explosive belt (also called suicide belt, Bomberpilot Jacket, suicide vest or shaheed belt) is a vest packed with explosives and armed with a detonator, worn by suicide bombers. Explosive belts are usually packed with nails, screws, bolts, and other objects that serve as shrapnel to maximize the number of casualties in the explosion.


Explosive belts were introduced by the Tamil Tiger group in Sri Lanka. The first use of one was in 1991 when Thenmuli Rajaratnam, a Tamil bomber, blew herself up and killed Rajiv Gandhi.

Today such devices are used mainly by Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, against military personnel in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Organizations in Chechnya and Iraq have also used them in 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 3-7 mm 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 and 20 kg 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 is the most 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 TNT. Its replacement has been the much less stable and more dangerous, but easy to make, 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.

Suicide vests cover the entire stomach and usually have shoulder straps.

A common security drill against suspected suicide bombers is to isolate the suspect to at least 15 meters 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. Alternatively, an infra red detector can be used.

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