The munitions of terroristic attacks in Europe

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2019
19 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. How can we stay ahead of a terrorist´s arsenal?

2. How can the weaponry of a terrorist be categorised?

3. What terroristic attacks occurred since the year 2000 in Europe and what arms were used?

4. Did the terrorists in Europe change their arsenal?

5. Literature

1. How can we stay ahead of a terrorist´s arsenal?

The aim of this paper is to present and outline the munitions terrorists in Europe are using in order to harm innocent people. From the recent terrorist attacks in Europe we know that they were very lethal and we must stay updated about their arsenal in order to prepare our defensive against those different kinds of weapons. Therefore, I have got the following thesis that needs to be proven.

The arms of terrorists who are targeting Europe have changed in the 21st century.

The purpose of this paper is to analyse if the weaponry of terrorists in Europe has changed within the 21st century and to prepare better against those new threats. In order to approach this thesis statement, it is important to ask the right research question for that. The question is:

What munitions are terrorists in Europe using today and did they change since the beginning of the 21st century?

In order to answer this question, I will analyse the terrorist attacks in the recent years and find out what weapons the terrorists have used. Then I will count how often the different weapons were used in the attacks and compare them to each other. Then, it must be examined, if there is a rising number of a special kind of weapon that was not so often used before the year 2000.

Based on this research, I can point out my hypothesis:

If we know what arms the European extremists are using for their attacks nowadays beforehand, we can prevent those attacks better.

In order to question this hypothesis some specific scientific methods are used in this paper. Foremost, a quantitative research approach is used in order to rank how often what type of munition was used in a recent terroristic attack. As a basis for the data of the different incident’s articles from the newspapers USA today and Süddeutsche Zeitung are examined. They list all the recent attacks in a chronological order and it offers also an insight what type of munitions was used by the terrorists. From there, hard empirical data can be generated. In addition, a table will be created in order to quantify the number of the arms that were used. To answer the posed research question the numbers have to be compared to each other at the end.

But before we can start to examine the different weapons, we have to categorise them first. Therefore, the book of Cindy Combs, `Terrorism in the Twenty First Century´, is very helpful.

2. How can the weaponry of a terrorist be categorised?

Firstly, each arm has to be carefully put into a category in order to examine how often a weapon from each category is used in the 21st century. To do this, we should focus on the categories that Cindy Combs has given us in her book.

The first category of munitions we think about in our mind when it comes to terrorism are explosives. But what types of explosives are available to a terrorist? According to Cindy Combs, many explosives are homemade devices with a focus on a big blast rather than being a conventional bomb. (Combs, 2017) That allows the terrorists to smuggle them into airplanes because metal detectors are useless against them. In addition those handmade explosives can be easily assembled locally at the terrorists home. (Combs, 2017) It should also be pointed out that one can count a fully fuelled airplane as an explosive device as well as a truck that is loaded with flammable chemicals and explosive material in order to trigger a blast. (Combs, 2017) Terrorists are also very efficient to do a lot of damage by using only small amounts of explosives. Combs named this method the so called `shaped-charge principle´. (Combs, 2017) That means that terrorists are ` focusing the force of the explosion in a desired direction´ (Combs, 2017, p.163) A new type of bomb should also be added to the category of explosives. The newly emerged so called improvised explosive device (IED). This kind of explosive device can be described as `a homemade bomb, designed to maim or kill an enemy, typically thrown or left concealed on the side of a road´ (Combs, 2017, p. 163) Those devices are easy to manufacture and the terrorist can get the components from a local hardware shop. That makes IED´s widely accessible for a wide range of potential terrorists. They can be thrown at a target or triggered by a civil device like a cell phone. (Combs, 2017) This makes them also very easy to handle.

Secondly, the category of assassinations and ambushes have to be added to our list. They can also be a kind of munition against innocent people. Terrorists are choosing their targets who they want to assassinate very wisely. Because of their publicity and symbolic value politicians can be a very interesting target to aim for. The terrorists are doing this in a long and detailed planning phase in order to surprise the victim and to secure the execution. (Combs, 2017)

Thirdly, the destructive potential of small firearms shouldn´t be underestimated and they can be identified as another category of munition. Under this category one can find pistols, rifles and sawed-off shotguns. (Combs, 2017) Terroristic groups who lack capital like them because they are low in purchase costs and they are easy to handle as well. A long training process is no longer needed. They are also easily to obtain because of the loose gun regulation laws in many countries. (Combs, 2017)

The fourth category of munitions that has to be considered are automatic weapons. Those arms are the preferred ones under terrorist groups for several reasons. They are highly available to them as well as easy to hide. Moreover, they have a high rate of fire and they are dealing a devastating psychological harm to the targets like civilians or security forces. (Combs, 2017) Assault rifles and submachine guns are the most widespread types of this category (Combs, 2017) The most popular assault rifles amongst terrorists is the AK-47 that was easily accessible after the demise of the Soviet Union. Terrorists like it because of the durability and the reliability of this automatic weapon. („Why has the AK-47 become the jihadi terrorist weapon of choice? | World news | The Guardian“, n.d.) Mark Mastaglio, a UK-based ballistics expert expressed it like this: `It’s very easy to use, that’s why you see 12-year-olds carrying them. It is tough, it works in all kinds of environments – hot and sandy deserts, or in Siberia. Wherever it is stored it is resilient, and this is why it is so popular. ´ („Why has the AK-47 become the jihadi terrorist weapon of choice? | World news | The Guardian“, n.d.)

Portable rockets are marking a fifth category of a terrorists arsenal. This category includes so called precision-guided munitions (PGM´s) that can be explained best in Cindy Combs words, are `devices that can launch missiles whose trajectories can be corrected in flight´ (Combs, 2017, p. 167) These munitions are very harmful because they can even destroy aircrafts and tanks. According to Brian Jenkins, terrorists like the PGM´s because of their widespread military use, high rate of production and they are relatively cheap. (Jenkins, 1978)

A sixth category can be assessed as aerial and naval hijacking. To hijack a civil airplane can generate a lot of public attention on the terrorist group and on their aims. (Combs, 2017) In addition the psychological impact of those skyjacks are devastating even when there are not much casualties. (Combs, 2017) Naval piracy is also rising because of the economic failure in some failing states like Somalia. Piracy has become a well-developed criminal enterprise in some regions and it is a very lucrative business for terrorist groups. (Combs, 2017)

Sabotages and cyber-attacks can be counted as a seventh category. Foremost, western nations with their vulnerable infrastructure are a target of such terroristic activities. (Combs, 2017) By sabotaging the infrastructure terrorists can also disrupt whole governments. When they are able to launch a cyberattack successfully against critical infrastructure, like the power grid, innocent people can also die as a consequence when their basic needs are not satisfied. Those kinds of attacks should be regarded as very dangerous because their damage potential is rising with the widespread of digitalisation.

Another very feared category of munitions is the category of weapons of mass destruction. We count those weapons as the eight category in this research paper. The potential damage of those weapons is devastating and can cost the lives of thousands to millions of casualties. Biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons are falling in this category. (Combs, 2017) Governments and experts are in fear of terrorist groups getting those devastating devices. It is generally assumed that terrorist groups are not able to get their hands on nuclear material to construct a proper working atomic weapon. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) But it is still concerning that the illegal trade of non-fissile nuclear materials rose since the demise of the Soviet Union. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) More dangerous to innocent people are chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Terrorists can get them easier than nuclear material and with a little technical expertise they are able to deal tremendous damage within a targeted country. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) Those weapons can also represent symbolic and religious symbols for the terrorists and would have a big impact on the media and on society. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) Even a limited assault with a tiny load of toxic chemicals deployed in a small area of a densely populated city can have tremendous consequences. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) Dr. Champion mentions also that there is a big variety of devices that are capable of delivering the chemical fight substance to the desired target, take for example different kinds of missiles, artillery shells, land mines and bursting smoke devices. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) Biological weapons are also very dangerous because they can be deployed anonymously and can devastate a whole region. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) Their lethal potential is relatively higher compared to chemical and nuclear weapons. Dr. Champion pointed out: `A few kilograms of toxin can be as deadly as a stockpile of chemicals. ´ (Champion & Mattis, 2003, p. 6) There is also the concern that terrorist groups can get their hands on those devastating toxins by infiltrating a laboratory. They could deliver the toxin via spray nozzles on a field or deliver it through an aerosol by using a flying device like a crop duster. (Champion & Mattis, 2003) It is crystal clear by now that a terroristic attack involving weapons of mass destruction is a rising threat to the western world.

The last and one of the most important categories of a terrorists arsenal needs to be pointed out as suicide bombings. Combs describes this new form of terror as an attack ` in which an individual carries explosives on his or her person or transport with the intention of detonating himself or herself in an effort to generate casualties among the enemy. ´ (Combs, 2017, p. 175) That amplifies that the terrorist as well as his tool of destruction are transformed into one lethal weapon. They are also very hard to challenge for the security forces because they can´t predict where they will strike next. Franco de Masi stated in his book that those suicide bombings have mostly strategic aims like withdrawing enemy forces from an occupied country even if they appear irrational and fanatical at the first glance. (De Masi, 2011) But ideological terrorism plays also a big role in this category. Ideological international terrorism is one of the most dangerous forms of terrorism and has a supranational character. (De Masi, 2011) The martyrs want to create an atmosphere of constant war within a targeted country to trigger vengeance and to turn the attack into a supranational blood bath. (De Masi, 2011) That means, it is very dangerous for western countries to respond to such attacks with bombing a foreign country because this satisfies the demands of the responsible terroristic groups. It is also important to draw a line between nationalist-type of terrorism and global Islamic terrorism, like de Masi distinguished them in their different motivation for suicide martyrs. (De Masi, 2011)

It should also be pointed out that suicide bombing terrorism is a highly efficient and economical munition of a terroristic group. The suicide martyr is even better than a conventional weapon because he doesn´t care about his own live and can maximize the inflicted damage by making autonomous decisions. (De Masi, 2011) In addition, suicide bombers do not need to be trained very good and the terrorist group behind it doesn´t suffer form a waste of human capital and even the planning of such attacks is easier because there is no need for an escape route. (De Masi, 2011) To put it into a nutshell, suicide bombing is one of the most lethal weapons regarding the output-related costs within the terrorist arsenal compared to the other categories.

3. What terroristic attacks occurred since the year 2000 in Europe and what arms were used?

Now that the terrorist arsenal is categorised, we can analyse what types of munitions were used in the terroristic attacks that occurred since the year 2000. The different attacks need to be pointed out in order to find out, if there is a special category of weapon that was used more often than others.

The first terror attack that should be examined happened in November 2003 in Turkey. („Timeline“, 2016) There are two incidents we should separate from each other. On the 15th of November 2003 two cars packed with explosives and driven by suicide bombers exploded nearby two different targeted synagogues during the sabbath week. („The Synagogue Bombings in Istanbul“, 2003) They killed 24 and injured over 300 innocent people. („The Synagogue Bombings in Istanbul“, 2003) It was thought that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks because of the detailed planning and the vast amount of explosives involved. („The Synagogue Bombings in Istanbul“, 2003) But that was not enough for Turkey. This terroristic attack was followed by another incident on the 20th of November 2003. The second bombing targeted the British consulate and the HSBC bank in Istanbul and was also carried out by suicide bombers with trucks that were loaded with explosives. („Istanbul rocked by double bombing“, 2003) The terrorists slayed 27 and injured around 400 people. („Istanbul rocked by double bombing“, 2003) Even a British top official was amongst the death, namely general consul Roger Short and the Turkish authorities found al-Qaeda guilty for this strike as well. („Istanbul rocked by double bombing“, 2003)

But how can this attack be categorised now? To begin with, the arms that were used in those attacks are pointed out. Both attacks were carried out by suicide bombers using trucks loaded with explosives. Those kinds of weapons are included crystal clear in the 9th category as a very efficient way to carry out a lot of damage. We count both bombings as one big mass suicide bombing for our analysis. In addition, the motivation for those bombings carried out by al-Qaeda can be linked to the global Islamic terrorism that was mentioned before.

Secondly the impact that occurred on March 11th, 2004 needs to be focused. This time, the capital of Spain, Madrid, was the target of the terrorists. („Timeline“, 2016) Four commuter trains were struck by a shocking number of ten bombs that were packed with explosives and nails. („The worst Islamist attack in European history“, 2007) The bombing hit the trains in a highly frequented time frame in the morning when innocent people were commuting to their workplace. („The worst Islamist attack in European history“, 2007) That circumstance made this strike extremely deadly for a lot of people and 191 civilians were killed and another 1800 people were injured. („The worst Islamist attack in European history“, 2007) The investigations of the police lead to a van that was packed with remote detonators for the bombs. („The worst Islamist attack in European history“, 2007) They found out as well that a group of four young men carried out the attacks and they had links to the terror network al-Qaeda. („The worst Islamist attack in European history“, 2007) Further investigations even found a tract that included a strategic demand from the terrorists. They wanted to contribute to the `victory of the Socialist party and the withdrawal of Spanish forces [from Iraq]´ („The worst Islamist attack in European history“, 2007 p. 1) A strategic goal can be clearly identified like Franco de Masi pointed out in his book. For examining the weapons that were used we have to take a closer look at the explosives. The ten used bombs were packed with dynamite and deadly enhanced by filling them up with nails to be even more deadly. Moreover, the bombs were triggered remotely through a van nearby. In conclusion the munitions of this horrible attack can be categorised into the first category of this paper under the branch of explosives. To be more specific improvised explosive devices were used in the strike against the trains. The bombs can be clearly characterised as that because the terrorists enriched the deadly device with nails that could be bought from a local hardware shop. The fact that the bombs were triggered remotely form a civilian van strongly supports this statement that the bombs were IED´s as they were defined in the beginning.


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The munitions of terroristic attacks in Europe
Linnaeus University
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Julian Schoenemeyer (Author), 2019, The munitions of terroristic attacks in Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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