Weapons of Terror

Weapons of Terror


counter terrorist Terrorism is a major threat facing the world today and the possibility of Weapons of Mass Destruction falling into the hands of terrorists is a grave concern for security agencies. The article talks about various such weapons and explores the possibility of their use by terrorists

The word terrorism is politically loaded and emotionally charged. A common definition of terrorism is the systematic use or threatened use of violence to intimidate a population or government and thereby effect political, religious or ideological change. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts that are intended to create fear; are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants. Terrorism has been practiced by political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments to further their objectives.

Terrorists normally use conventional weapons — bombs and guns are their favourites. Among the former, car- and truck-bombs have become very powerful weapons, especially for suicide attacks. Terrorists use both explosive bombings and incendiary bombings. 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 surfaceto- air shoulder-fired missiles.

Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
WMD are used to kill a large number of people, destroy properties, achieve political goals, and create terror, chaos and social disruption. WMD include biologic or chemical agents, nuclear weapons, conventional bombs contaminated with radioactive materials, large conventional or ‘truck’ bombs, and surprising items such as hijacked airplanes.

Any terrorist attack using WMD will result in substantial psychological trauma and stress. Significant psychological and behavioural reactions to such an attack are predictable. Primary care and emergency clinics are likely to see many patients who have stress-related emotional or physical symptoms. For example, after the Tokyo sarin attack, 5,510 people sought medical attention at more than 200 hospitals and clinics in the city within several hours of the incident.

Terrorist Weapons
Terrorists use both manufactured and improvised firearms. The term manufactured indicates 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. These are divided into sub-categories:

  • Small Arms: Most firearms under the category of medium machine guns, or as a loose rule, belt-fed machine guns. They include pistols (which are now all semi-automatic or self re-loading), revolvers, rifles, submachine guns and light machine guns. Small arms also include so-called assault rifles, which have either submachine gun mechanisms or mechanisms providing the same firing facilities in the body, stock or woodwork of a short rifle or carbine. The hand-guns, pistols and revolvers are sometimes known as side arms.
  • 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.

    Most small arms are designed for military use, but hunting weapons and occasionally full-bore target-shooting weapons are also utilised. Considerable quantities of commercial shotguns are diverted into illicit black markets due to a large number of commercial manufacturers. The most common weapons manufactured are:

  • AK-47 (Soviet Rifle): The AK-47 was accepted as a 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; about 30-50 million copies and variations of AK-47 have been produced globally, making it the most widely used rifle in the world.
  • RPG-7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade): Employed by forces of the former USSR, the Chinese military and North Korea, RPG-7 was also used in many countries receiving weapons and training from the Warsaw Pact members. 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. RPG-7 is being used extensively by terrorist organisations in the Middle East and Latin America and is believed to be in the inventory of many insurgent groups. It is available in illegal international arms markets, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
  • 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 the insurgency against the Soviet intervention. Its maximum effective range is approximately 5,500 metres, and maximum effective altitude is about 5,250 metres. It has been used to target high-speed jets, helicopters and commercial airliners.
  • SA-7 (Grail): Sold in thousands after the collapse of the Soviet Union, SA-7 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 about 4,300 metres. It is known to be in the stockpiles of several terrorist and guerrilla groups.

Bombs and Other Explosives
A few military bombs other than those dropped by aircraft are currently being manufactured on the scale and with the diversity encountered in the Second World War. The exception to this generalisation is the mines — both the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.

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).

Examples of IEDs

  • Pipe Bomb: This is the most common type of terrorist bomb and usually consists of low-velocity explosives inside a tightly capped piece of pipe. Pipe bombs are very easily made using gunpowder, iron, steel, aluminum or copper pipes. They are sometimes wrapped with nails to cause even more harm.
  • Molotov Cocktail: This improvised weapon first used by Russians against Germans in the Second World War, is now used by terrorists worldwide. Molotov cocktails are extremely simple to make and can cause considerable damage. They are usually made from materials like gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, ethyl or methyl alcohol, lighter fluid and turpentine, all of which are easily obtained.
  • Fertiliser Truck Bomb: Fertiliser truck bombs consist of ammonium nitrate. Hundreds of kilograms may be required to cause major damage. The Irish Republican Army, Tamil Tigers and some Middle Eastern groups are believed to have been using the ammonium nitrate bomb.
  • Barometric Bomb: This is one of the more advanced weapons in the terrorist’s arsenal. The detonator of the bomb is linked to an altitude meter, causing the explosion to occur in mid-air.

    RPG 7V2 grenade launche

    Use of Nuclear and Radiological Weapons
    Fortunately, there have not been any acts of nuclear or radiological terrorism so far. But the attack with the chemical warfare agent Sarin in Tokyo (1995), the anthrax cases in the USA (2001) and the smuggling of radioactive material are causing concern. Furthermore, the 9/11 attacks in US clearly showed that there are groups with considerable financial and human resources as well as the will to inflict the highest possible damage. There are in principle no insurmountable obstacles to the acquisition and use of radiological weapons by a well organised terrorist group, even though such an action remains hightech and thus very difficult.

    Nuclear Weapons: There are two imaginable ways for terrorists to get nuclear explosives. They could try to build a so-called Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) or they could steal or buy a nuclear weapon. Before discussing these two cases, we would like to give some information on the working principle of the simplest nuclear weapons. To make a working IND, an accurate blueprint is required. Experts seem to agree that the most difficult challenge for a terrorist organisation wanting to construct an IND is to obtain the necessary fissile material. Nuclear weapons are located at well protected and guarded weapons emplacements or in nuclear weapons storage facilities. A theft would involve many risks and great efforts in terms of personnel, finances and organisation. Without the support of insiders and local knowledge, such a theft is inconceivable.

    Radiological Weapons: A radiological weapon or radiological dispersion device (RDD) is a device that is designed to spread radioactive material into the environment, either to kill, or to deny the use of an area. Sometimes, when high explosives are used to build a radiological weapon, terrorists would need to have access to a sufficient quantity of radioactive material. Radioactive sources are used in medical, industrial, agricultural and research applications. They can be found in hospitals, medical and industrial irradiation facilities, universities and even homes. However, not all of these sources would be suitable for use in an RDD. Most are far too weak to cause extensive damage. Furthermore, many radioactive sources are in metallic form and would not be dispersed very effectively by high explosives.

    National Strategy for Combating Terrorism
    War on Terror is a different kind of war. From the beginning, it has been both a battle of arms and a battle of ideas. The paradigm for combating terrorism now involves the application of all elements of national power and influence. Not only it employs military power, but also diplomatic, financial, intelligence and law enforcement activities to protect internal security, extend defences, disrupt terrorist operations, and deprive enemies of what they need to operate and survive.

    In this war of nerves, terrorists have adjusted, and the State therefore needs to refine its strategy to meet the evolving threat. Today, we face a global terrorist movement and must confront the radical ideology that justifies the use of violence against innocents in the name of religion.


    • Terrorist networks today are more dispersed and less centralised
    • Terrorists have struck in many places throughout the world
    • They have declared their intention to acquire and use WMD to inflict even more catastrophic attacks around the world
    • Some states continue to harbour terrorists at home and sponsor terrorist activity abroad
    • Increasingly sophisticated use of the Internet and media has enabled terrorists to communicate, recruit, train, rally support, proselytize and spread their propaganda without risking personal contact

    From the beginning, the War on Terror has been both a battle of arms and a battle of ideas, a fight against the terrorists and their murderous ideology. In the short run, the fight involves the application of all instruments of national power and influence to kill or capture terrorists; deny them safe haven and control of any nation; prevent them from gaining access to WMD; render potential terrorist targets less attractive by strengthening security; and cut off their sources of funding and other resources they need to operate and survive.

    A government has no higher obligation than to protect the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. The hard core among our terrorist enemies cannot be reformed or deterred; they need to be tracked down, captured or killed. They should be cut off from the network of individuals, institutions, and other resources they depend on for support and which facilitates their activities. The network, in turn, will be deterred, disrupted and disabled. The strategy has to selectively target and neutralise the leaders, the foot soldiers, which include the operatives, facilitators, and trainers in a terrorist network and the weapons including through state sponsors, theft or capture, and black market purchases. The greatest and gravest concern, however, is WMD in the hands of terrorists. Preventing their acquisition and use has to be a key priority of this strategy. There is also a need for effective disruption of funding sources, target their communication nodes and propaganda operations.

    Indian Strategy to Fight Terrorism

    Long Term Strategy
    From the above understanding of the nature of international terrorism that faces us today, it is clear that a long-term strategy is required to counter terrorism. It has to be comprehensively addressed on all fronts, political, economic, social and military. This strategy needs to be evolved from our national aims and objectives to protect ‘core values’. These core values are:

    • Consolidate as a secular, federal democratic state with freedom of speech, equality and justice
    • Protect sovereignty and territorial integrity
    • Promote socio-economic growth and development

    We must learn from the experience of other nations. However, at the same time, we need to realise clearly that our situation is peculiar to us and there are no direct lessons to learn except a re-evaluation of our own experience. Our strategy must be realistic and cannot be similar to the US model of worldwide capability or the Israeli strategy of reliance on massive and immediate retaliation, as the respective environment and capabilities are different. While, we can take some useful lessons from the British dealings with the IRA or even the Egyptian policy on eliminating the Jehadis, one principle is clear that whatever responses we adopt, they must not be ‘knee-jerk’ reactions or evolved in an ad-hoc manner.

    International terrorism cannot effectively be fought alone, as has been our experience so far. The UN Security Council Regulation 1373 must not remain on paper but must be applied and the defaulting nations punished. Pakistan-sponsored ‘proxy’ war must be exposed and international pressure applied. We must highlight more aggressively, the justness of our cause and the support to terrorism by Pakistan, both through state and non-state players, as well as strive to isolate Pakistan in the international community. A strong message needs to be conveyed to Pakistan, that we mean business, demonstrated by deeds/actions. All steps to convey this must be implemented such as diplomacy, trade, sports and military.

    Internal Strategy
    Our policy of meeting political and economic aspirations has succeeded in many cases through the creation of new states and autonomous councils with limited military containment. However, it has not succeeded where ‘internal support’ has been potent. We, therefore, need to move from a policy of appeasement and accommodation to firm action, before the problem spreads and must:

    • Adopt proactive policies to confront the terrorists militarily, and at the roots of terrorist ideology — fundamentalists, social evils and sources of terrorism, for example, narcotics/ drug trade
    • Enact effective anti-terrorist laws and legal framework
    • Modernise and enlarge intelligence networks
    • Modernise state police and paramilitary forces in training, equipment and ethos

    There is a need to evolve a consistent and comprehensive policy at the national level. The core of the issue is that we need to respond efficiently and rationally to the emerging challenges. Collective Action to fight by international cooperation is a must, as the economic costs of combating terrorism by a single nation are colossal. Collective action is not confined to active combat alone. Simultaneously, foreign sponsors of international terrorism have to be identified and tamed.

    A democratic polity and a diverse society such as India do not support stringent measures and anti-terrorist legislation, even when necessary. Thus, at present, the security forces have to function in an environment of lack of total physical and legal support. Therefore, legal reforms and stringent anti-terrorist legislation have to be enacted. As an example, the media that has a great reach today should be used as a force multiplier to shape public opinion and to counter false propaganda. The media must be taken along as a weapon of the state and not of the terrorists.

    Technology enhancement, NBC, cyber-terrorism have given terrorists unlimited powers and to counter these, we must not lose any time to modernise our security apparatus. The citizens of the country also have to be energised to feel responsible for the well-being of the nation and state apparatus alone will not suffice. Simultaneously, we have to deploy Special Forces for specific tasks and they have to be trained accordingly. There is also a need to evolve a policy framework on internal security by the Home Ministry. In summary, we have to put in a sustained effort to initiate, plan for and implement such efforts seriously, and tackle the menace of terrorism and weapons of terror proactively and head on.