Fire/EMS Response to Suicide Bombing Events

On March 11, 2004 multiple "backpack" train bombings in Spain killed 200 and injured over 1,000. There were three additional devices found during the event that had been planted for first responders.

There have been dozens of American soldiers and innocent Iraqis killed by roadside and suicide bombs in Iraq in the past 12 months including six Americans killed by a roadside IED on March 15. On February 29, two simultaneous suicide bombings occurred in northern Iraq that killed over 100 individuals.

There have been several suicide bombers intercepted in Afghanistan and Iraq as they were in the final stages of an attack. On October 15, 2003 a bomb was detonated against a U S Embassy convoy in the Gaza Strip in Israel, in which three American security guards were murdered and one was wounded.

November 8, 2003 a suicide car bomb disguised as a police vehicle killed 17 and injured over 100 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. That attack was initiated with an actual armed assault to gain entry into the compound. Recent intelligence has stated that Al Qaeda has been actively recruiting potential suicide bombers and female members.

It is a very simple and inexpensive process to make a suicide belt or bomb. Could this be one of the possible future threats we are facing in the United States of America?

FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, "Suicide bombers are inevitable in the United Sates." "There is no 100 percent defense against suicide bombers," said former CIA Counter terrorism Chief Vince Cannistraro. At this time the FBI possesses no information indicating specific plans to conduct suicide bombings against the United States.

However, due to the recent increase of homicide bombings in the Middle East, there has been a concern that terrorist organizations or lone Islamic extremists may target American interests at home or abroad. For instance, in 1997 law enforcement officials arrested two individuals for plotting a suicide bombing attack aimed at Orthodox Jews on a Brooklyn, NY subway station. During the May 20, 2003 increase of the National Homeland Security Threat Level to Orange, there is reference to the seriousness of "large vehicle borne devices and suicide bombers".

How would your agency respond to an actual suicide bombing or a suicide bomber threat?

Suicide bombings have proven to be one of the most effective ways to successfully penetrate a target and create injuries and havoc. A suicide bomber is a very difficult threat to counter. Every week we see the scenes of chaos and destruction caused by bombings on buses and in cafes.

What type of impact would a similar event cause in the United States in a coffee shop or sporting event? A suicide bomber or "homicide bomber" as coined by President George W. Bush, is an individual that carries an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) on their person to detonate in a location with the intention of taking the lives of bystanders as well as their own.

Since 2000, there have been over 900 Israelis killed in bombings and shootings, and, the majority of these fatalities are caused by suicide/homicide bombers. Suicide bombings have occurred across the globe in Afghanistan, Argentina, Algeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Israel, Turkey, East Africa, Croatia, Chechnya, Yemen, Panama, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. As of the middle of 2003, there have been well over 300 suicide attacks carried out in 14 countries by 17 terror organizations. Modern suicide bombing was introduced in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

There is a tremendous amount of information on profiling, pre-incident indicators, interdiction, response and other important issues that cannot be covered in this article due to time constraints. This article will focus primarily on the "Fire/EMS Suicide Bombing Response".

Middle Eastern experiences have shown:

  • Men, women and older children have been suicide bombers.

  • Targets have included buses, clubs, restaurants, police checkpoints and other public locations where there are large groups of people, "soft targets".

  • Devices in the Middle East have included belts, vests, jackets, backpacks, suitcases, shoes and even a guitar case. The device typically will consist of 10 to 30 pounds of explosive that can be easily hidden in clothing or other packaging systems.

  • A few bombers have been killed or interdicted by police/military forces, some have been identified by citizens, but most use the element of surprise where the detonation is the first and only indication of an attack.

  • Bombers will add nails, bolts, ball bearings and other devices to the explosives.

  • Hazardous chemicals and pesticides have also been added to the explosive devices.

  • Rat poisons containing an anticoagulant that prevents blood clotting has also been used. It causes excessive bleeding.

  • Bombers have also been infected with diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis thus exposing the victims.

  • Ambulances have been used to transport bombers and devices.

  • Bombers have started using an armed assault to gain access into "hardened targets" before detonating.


Please follow local guidelines and procedures. This article is for informational purposes only.

Pre-Detonation Response

Pre-detonation response will take place before there is an explosion. If there is a report of a possible suicide bomber very little time will be available for police intervention if the suspect is indeed a homicide bomber, especially when they are possibly moving towards their target.

  • Call takers/dispatchers must get as much information as possible. Every effort should be made to keep the callers on the line during the response. Extreme specificity should be obtained as to the direct knowledge of the caller as to why the person is suspected of being a possible bomber.

  • All responders (fire, EMS, law enforcement) should approach the location without lights and sirens. This avoids alerting the suspect, and allows officers to choose the best approach to the suspect.

  • Vehicles should be parked out of suspect