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What is a Proxy Bomb?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A proxy bomb is a bomb carried by someone who is not affiliated with the cause that the bomb is supposed to be advancing. These innocent individuals are forced to carry bombs through a variety of coercive tactics, and in some regions of the world, proxy bombs are a serious threat. This technique supposedly developed in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the 1990s, spreading from there to FARC guerrillas in Colombia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda in the Middle East, and other revolutionary organizations.

Proxy bombers work much like suicide bombers. They may carry the bomb on their persons, or be forced to drive a car bomb to a set location. The bomb may be detonated remotely, triggered by the bomber, or put on a timer which triggers the bomb at a certain location or time. In all cases, the proxy bomber dies due to his or her proximity to the bomb.

Initially, a person forced to act as a proxy bomb may be written off as a suicide bomber, until investigation reveals the fact that he or she was actually coerced. The most common technique for coercing someone to act as a proxy bomb is kidnapping, with the kidnappers holding someone's family hostage until he or she agrees to deliver to bomb. Coercion can take other forms as well, with the end goal on the part of the terrorists being to instill so much fear that the person feels there is no choice.

The advantage to using a proxy bomb is that the person will not be viewed with suspicion as he or she passes checkpoints. Members of militant and terrorist organizations may be flagged by law enforcement, even if their links to illegal activity cannot be proved, so they would be subject to scrutiny when passing vulnerable areas. A proxy bomb, however, appears entirely innocent, sometimes passing without being detained, and thereby penetrating a sensitive area where the bomb can do a great deal of damage.

The use of proxy bombs attracted a great deal of attention in the 1990s, when they were used in several IRA campaigns to devastating effect. However, these plans ended up backfiring, as public opinion turned against the IRA, since many people were shocked by the proxy bomb tactic. This has not stopped the spread of the technique to other troubled areas of the world, unfortunately, but it still remains relatively rare.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ceilingcat — On Oct 03, 2011

@strawCake - I can't think of any proxy bombings in the recent past either. But this concept actually kind of reminds me of a Bones episode I saw awhile back.

A couple kidnaps an exterminator, straps a bomb to him, and makes him rob a bank. They tell him if he doesn't go through with the robbery, they'll detonate the bomb. But then, as he's exiting the bank with the money, an underground radio station frequency makes the bomb go off. So the poor man ends up basically being a proxy bomber.

Of course in the show, the team quickly figures out the man was coerced. I don't know if it would happen so fast in real life.

By strawCake — On Oct 02, 2011

I would think the fact that it turns public opinion against them would be enough to stop some groups from using proxy bombers. I mean, I know some groups just want to terrorize others, so they would probably be okay with using a proxy bomber because they don't care about public opinion.

But for a group that's trying to make a point and sway public opinion, this probably wouldn't be the way to go. As the article said, it didn't work very well for the IRA in the 90's. I guess maybe that's why we haven't heard anything about proxy bombing in the last few years?

By titans62 — On Oct 01, 2011

@TreeMan - There are numerous reasons as to why terrorists do not utilize more proxy bombers. The first reason to me that comes to mind is that whenever a terrorist organization makes an attack they want the people they are attacking to know that it was them that did it.

Terrorists are not like normal criminals and do not want to get away with their crimes, they want everyone to know that they were the ones that committed the horrible act and they want to be the wanted people as opposed to someone looking to commit the perfect crime.

Because of this fact, if the terrorist organization has vast numbers then they could coerce someone in their organization that is not very important into becoming a suicide bomber. This way they know the person will show up at the location they want without any problems.

I only see proxy bombers being used in rare instances when they cannot get their people into the location they want. Although it does instill fear in people that they could become a proxy bomber at any time, people need to realize that it is very unlikely and that proxy bombers will only be used in the most rare of instances.

By TreeMan — On Sep 30, 2011

I would think that considering the amount of suicide bombers used in recent years people do not hear more about proxy bombers. It could be the fact that when it comes to suicide bombers it is difficult to determine if they were innocent or not and it is usually assumed the bomber was in on it.

I have to wonder why the terrorists waste so many of their own as suicide bombers when they can simply use innocent civilians in various ways to carry out their missions.

By stl156 — On Sep 30, 2011

@jcraig - I totally agree with you. It is very scary to think that anyone could become an innocent deliverer of death at the hands of evil people.

I do not know many stories of where this strategy was utilized but it really seems likely that it has happened in the past and I am sure that there are numerous instances in which they could not figure out that the person was either innocent or that the experts examining just figured the person was closest to the bomb.

By jcraig — On Sep 29, 2011

I have to wonder how often someone has had a bomb attached to maybe their car or to them and have unknowingly simply driven to a location they usually go to. This sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie but I can imagine that this has been utilized, say if someone wants to blow up a building and they strap a bomb to a persons car they know will park in a parking garage.

Thinking of some of the strategies that terrorists can use on making an innocent person an unknowing accomplice to a horrible event is a very unsettling thought.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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