What does an improvised mine look like?


Alexandra Brutsch


April 1, 2021

Estimated reading time:

10 minutes

A collage of 6 pictures of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)

Each year, thousands of civilians lose their lives and are injured during explosions from various weapons and ammunition: bombs, rockets, mines, etc. Involved in almost half of the cases in 2020 are “improvised explosive devices”, tinkered with everyday objects and products. Among these “weapons of the poor,” as they are sometimes called, are artisanal mines, mainly produced by non-state armed groups. The FSD has neutralized 1,452 in the past year.

Robot soldiers, armed drones, cyber attacks: new technologies are changing the face of war. Yet the explosive weapons that claim the most civilian casualties today are non-commercial, "homemade" weapons. They are called “improvised explosive devices”. Their manufacture ranges from the simplest to the most sophisticated depending on the skills of their maker and on the material available. Some complex bombs, for example, can be triggered remotely using amobile phone.

Number of people injured or killed by explosive devices in 2020, by category. Source: Explosive Violence Monitor 2020

According to figures compiled by the AOAV, improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) were used by 19 armed groups in 36 countries in 2020. Afghanistan and Iraq are among most affected. IEDs are varied in nature, reflecting the diversity of “traditional” weapons: rocket launchers, mortars, bombs… Most explosive devices have their “homemade” version. Anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines are no exception: these are then referred to as "improvised mines".

A mine is an explosive device triggered by the presence of a person or a vehicle. Some are designed to explode when stepped on or when someone walks through a tripwire. Because they explode indiscriminately regardless of who is present, and therefore killcivilians and combatants alike, anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under international humanitarian law. This applies to both conventional and artisanal mines.

A switch made from a modified refrigerator door lightswitch attached to a plank of wood. This switch is usually placed under an attractive object or under the container full of explosives. When a person lifts the object, the pressure is released, which activates the detonator and causes the device to function.

An IED is typically made up of five components: an explosive charge, a detonator, a firing switch, a power sourceand a container. In Iraq, the Islamic State group has manufactured hundreds of thousands of artisanal mines using explosives made from fertilizers and other household or freely available commercial products, simple 9-volt batteries as asource of energy, and jerrycans or plastic boxes as containers. Most of them, fitted with a pressure activated switch, have been partially buried or concealed in vegetation so as not to be spotted. In buildings, ISIS used improvised mines designed to be activated when a door is opened, or when an object, such as a doll, is lifted.

This type of IED is encountered very frequently in Iraq. This type of container, similar to a food container, was mass-produced by ISIS forces in a former plastic factory in Mosul. Filled with 7-10 kg of homemade explosive, it contains a pressure switch under the lid that activates the detonator when stepped on.

IED container also very common in Iraq: it is a metal cylinder cut froman oil pipeline and then closed on each side, filled with 10 to 15 kg of explosives, enough to destroy a car.

For a deminer, IEDs pose a particular challenge: Built outside of industry standards, they can take an endless variety of shapes, sizes, and activation systems. When deminers discover a hidden IED, they must be trained to learn how to safely approach and uncover it. In addition, homemade explosives may be more sensitive to friction, heat or movement and less durable than military explosives, and therefore even more dangerous. Finally, some IEDs have two or even three switches. These are specifically aimed at the deminer who would remove the object, thinking they have deactivated it, thereby activating the second switch. This is why IEDs, even after neutralization, are always removed remotely, by means of cables.

The location of the artisanal mine is indicated by flags and marking tape. After neutralizing the device, the deminers attach acable to it. They then pull the cable to move the device at least one meter, from a safe distance of 100 meters, in case another hidden switch is placed under the object.

FSD focuses its activities in Iraq on the rendering safe and elimination of these improvised mines. To date, our deminers have destroyed nearly 15,000.

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A little girl, wearing a hijab, standing

So that she doesn't risk her life with every step.

“I was playing outside with some friends when one of them picked up a piece of metal lying on the floor. Suddenly there was an explosion. We all fell to the ground. I felt like I had been hit in the back. ” Sanita, 11 years old. 

Like Sanita, many children walk in areas contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance on a daily basis. Since 1997, FSD has worked tirelessly to locate and eliminate these dangerous legacies of war around the world, and to prevent accidents through awareness campaigns. FSD also remediates sites polluted by toxic waste, and supports peace and development in conflict-affected countries.

Together, we can act. Every donation, no matter how small, helps shape a safer future for those who have already suffered so much.

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