Following this week’s foiled car bombs in central London, the British media raised the spectre of “Iraq-style attacks”, but what exactly would be the hallmarks of such a campaign? On Friday, London police defused explosives in two Mercedes cars that had been loaded with gas canisters and nails and left in central London, and analysts have fingered the Al Qaeda group as a possible suspect.Car bombings are a daily danger in Iraq, and many of them are allegedly built and triggered by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the local franchise of Saudi-born extremist Osama Ben Laden’s jihadi network.
But car bombs weren’t invented in Iraq.
In 1920, Italian anarchist Mario Buda exploded a horse-drawn wagon packed with dynamite near Wall Street, killing 40 people in New York’s financial district eight decades before the September 11 attacks.
Since then, similar car and truck bombs have been used by militants, intelligence agencies and criminals in conflicts as far apart as Northern Ireland, Colombia and Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, reports of this week’s attempted attack in London have drawn parallels with the campaign in Iraq â€” despite no evidence being made public to link the design of these bombs to any in use elsewhere.
In fact, after four years of bloodshed, Iraq’s myriad militant groups use a wide and constantly evolving array of improvised weapons to spread panic and counter the hi-tech arsenal arrayed against them by the US military.
The military knows these weapons by a variety of acronyms:Â The VBIED or SVBIED: The “vehicle-borne improvised explosive device” or “suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device” are the two weapons that most resemble those found and dismantled in London.
Commonly parked in crowed areas such as markets or outside mosques, the car and truck bombs are designed to indiscriminately spray deadly sharpnel and cause mass slaughter, spread fear and undermine the Iraqi government.
The London bomb was packed with nails and gas canisters, a technique that has been used elsewhere, but Iraqi bombs commonly use artillery shells looted from Saddam-era arms dumps wired to an explosive charge.
A chilling recent development has seen insurgents use tanks of chlorine gas alongside the explosives but, while this has caused burns and spreads panic, it has yet to genuinely increase the weapon’s lethal potential.
Â The IED: The “impovised explosive device” is the catch all military term for a wide variety of roadside bombs and booby-traps, planted on Iraq’s roads and used to target US and Iraqi military patrols and convoys.
Again often built around elderly artillery ammunition, these homemade devices show a varying degree of sophistication and power.
US engineers are in a race to design better armour to protect vehicles and better measures to counter IED triggers, which can be infrared beams, command wires, simple pressure plates or trip wires or mobile phones.
Â The EFP: The “explosively-formed penetrator” sometimes called an “explosively-formed projectile” is a shaped charge explosive which fires a fist-sized slug of molten metal capable of punching through US armour.