Weapons of Mass Destruction

Conventional Terrorist Weapons

Terrorists are, on the whole, conventional in their use of weapons; bombs and guns are their favourites. Among the former, car- and truck-bombs have become very powerful weapons, especially in suicide attacks. Terrorists use both explosive bombings and incendiary bombings (e.g. Molotov cocktails). They also make use of letter and parcel bombs. Terrorists use guns, pistols, revolvers, rifles and (semi-) automatic weapons in assassinations, sniping, armed attacks and massacres. Grenades - from hand grenades to rocket-propelled - are also part of the terrorist arsenal. The use of missiles is rare but a few groups are known to be in possession of surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can bring down helicopters, fighter aircrafts and civilian airliners.

Guns and Other Firearms


Terrorists use both manufactured and improvised firearms. The term manufactured designates those arms made professionally by arms factories, while improvised describes those manufactured by non-professional arms manufacturers, or by illicit workshops. Firearms are sometimes referred to as "bored weapons", indicating the barrel from which the bullet or projectile is fired, or the tube from which the projectile is launched.

Manufactured Firearms

These are divided into sub-categories:

Improvised Firearms

These weapons include any of the above which are made outside professional and legal arms factories. Not all types of the above weapons have been privately manufactured or improvised, but weapons such as the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle or the M-60 heavy machine gun are within the manufacturing capabilities of local arms artificers on the north-west frontier of the Indian subcontinent. Primitive mortars and rocket launchers are also sometimes manufactured by different entities.

Weapons Manufacturers and Weapon Names

Small Arms

Most small arms are designed for military use, but hunting weapons and occasionally full-bore target-shooting weapons are also utilized.

Common calibres (reflecting procurement and re-supply trends).

5.56 mm
7.65 mm
9 mm

Manufacturers / Weapons

Considerable quantities of commercial shotguns are diverted into illicit black markets due to the large number of commercial manufacturers. The most common weapon manufacturers are:

FN (Fabrique Nationale).
Carl Gustav.
Webley & Scott.
Sterling-Enfield (Sten).
Bryno-Enfield (Bren).
A. Kalashnikov (AK).
Smith & Wesson.
British Small Arms Co.


1) AK-47 (Soviet rifle)

The AK-47 was accepted as the standard rifle for the Soviet Army in 1949 and retained that status until it was succeeded by the AKM. During the Cold War, the USSR supplied arms to anti-Western insurgent terrorists. The AK-47 became a symbol of left-wing revolution; between 30-50 million copies and variations of the AK-47 have been produced globally, making it the most widely used rifle in the world.

2) RPG-7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade)

The RPG-7 was issued by forces of the former USSR, the Chinese military and North Korea, and was used in many countries receiving weapons and training from the Warsaw Pact members. The RPG-7 proved to be a very simple and functional weapon, effective against fixed emplacements and playing an anti-vehicle/anti-armour role. Its effective range is thought to be approximately 500 metres when used against a fixed target, and about 300 metres when fired at a moving target. It can reportedly penetrate conventional armour plate from a distance of about 12 inches. The RPG-7 is being used extensively by terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Latin America and is thought to be in the inventory of many insurgent groups. The RPG-7 is available in illegal international arms markets, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

3) Stinger (FIM92A)

The US-made Stinger is a man-portable infrared guided shoulder-launched Surface-To-Air Missile (SAM). It proved to be highly effective in the hands of Afghan Mujahedeen guerrillas during their insurgency against the Soviet intervention. Its maximum effective range is approximately 5,500 metres. Its maximum effective altitude is approximately 5250metres. It has been used to target high-speed jets, helicopters and commercial airliners.

4) SA-7 ("Grail")

Sold by the thousands after the demise of the former Soviet Union, the SA-7 "Grail" uses an optical sight and tracking device with an infrared seeking mechanism to strike flying targets with great force. Its maximum effective range is approximately 6,125 metres and maximum effective altitude is approximately 4300 metres. It is known to be in the stockpiles of several terrorist and guerrilla groups.

Bombs and Other Explosives


Few military bombs (other than those dropped by aircraft) are currently manufactured on the scale and with the diversity encountered in the Second World War. The exception to this generalization is the mine - both the anti-personnel and anti-tank mine. Mines can be adapted without too much difficulty with average combat-engineer experience. Some 300 different types of mines are buried under the soil, killing tens of thousands every year.

Most bombs assembled by terrorists are improvised. The raw material required for explosives is stolen or misappropriated from military or commercial blasting supplies, or made from fertilizer and other readily available household ingredients. Such assembled bombs are known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).


IEDs have a main charge, which is attached to a fuse. The fuse is attached to a trigger. In some types of IEDs, these three components are almost integrated into a single whole. The trigger is the part which activates the fuse. The fuse ignites the charge, causing the explosion. The explosion consists of a violent pulse of blast and shock waves. The effects of the IED are sometimes worsened by the addition of material, such as scrap iron or ball-bearings. Sometimes the trigger is not the only component that activates the fuse; there is also an anti-handling device that triggers the fuse when the IED is handled or moved. The purpose of most IEDs is to kill or maim. Some IEDs, known as incendiaries, are intended to cause damage or destruction by fire. The format of the charge in some IEDs (some of which have no casing to contain the components of the IED) can be shaped or directional, rendering a measure of control over the explosion. Anti-personnel mines and other types of mines have been adapted by terrorists to suit their purposes.

Favoured Explosive Charges

Methods / Triggers used to detonate an IED

Examples of IEDs