IEDs – a growing threat

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are among the world’s oldest types of weapons. Their use is regulated. In situations of conflict, warring parties may employ IEDs if they fully adhere to international humanitarian law, in particular the rules of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack. Indiscriminate use or the targeting of the IEDs against civilians or civilian objects is strictly prohibited.

But the unlawful use of improvised explosive devices – particularly by non-state armed groups and rogue individuals – is spreading quickly. Such IED attacks deliberately target concentrations of civilians to achieve a maximum effect of lethality, terror and societal disruption; and they currently occur globally on a scale of hundreds per month.


Annually, IED attacks kill and injure more people than do attacks with any other type of weapon except firearms.

A review of selected international media reports from 2011 to 2015 revealed more than 6,300 recorded IED explosions, resulting in over 105,000 casualties.

Proliferation of IED use is an unmistakable trend. About half of the world’s countries have currently been impacted by IEDs S/2014/41.

In 2015 alone, suicide attacks involving IEDs occurred in over 10 per cent of Member States, a greater proportion than any recorded ever before.

Why is IED use spreading?

IEDs can be simple to design, and components remain cheap and easily accessible, including through criminal networks and porous borders, and as a result of corruption and poor ammunition stockpile management.

Armed groups have recruited extensive cadres which can be trained to manufacture and use IEDs. Such groups often combine a deliberate disregard for international humanitarian law with the intention to wreak massive havoc. Precisely because these groups often aim at any gatherings of civilians, the locations of their victims are widespread and it is almost impossible to predict whom they will be.

In addition, terrorist groups have sometimes made enduring gains in territorial control, creating areas where sophisticated IED production facilities can go undetected for long periods of time.

The financial and organizational prowess of several of these groups allows their IED manufacturers to continually adapt to counter-IED (C-IED) measures.

The spread of communications technology has greatly abetted IED knowledge-sharing. Online, groups share instructional videos or materials, both on IED construction and on execution of attacks.

Travel for IED-related training among organizations is also occurring.

Moreover, foreign fighters have been returning to their home countries or have crossed borders into third countries, bringing the skills learned in conflict zones with them. Returnees have formed cells and networks providing access to weapons and materials for IED construction, while capitalizing on acquired battlefield skills and explosives-related training.

In countries where strict weapons controls are in place, IEDs seem to form an increasingly attractive alternative or addition to illicit small arms.