The cunning and cruel bombs used by Isis to stall the Mosul offensive


October 30, 2016

The teddy bear, garish but cuddly, is propped on top of the explosives it was designed to hide and detonate. An adult would probably have walked by, but to a child the wide eyes and fuzzy orange fur would have been irresistible.

“Why would Isis use something nice, like a bear or a rabbit? They used this toy because they know the peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] will not touch it, but children will,” said Colonel Nawzad Kamil Hassan, an engineer with the Kurdish forces, who says his unit has cleared more than 50 tonnes of explosives from areas once controlled by the militants.

As a broad coalition of forces tries to push Isis out of Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq, Hassan has decided to preserve some of the most creative, cruel and unusual of those homemade bombs to use as training aids for new recruits to one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The homemade explosive devices provide a lesson in the depths of ingenuity, intelligence and resources that Isis devotes to spreading murder and fear even when its fighters can no longer terrorise in person.

In the areas where it rules for long enough to seed them with bombs, the group has created a dark, parallel universe, where even the most mundane object can kill. A toy, a playing card and an abandoned watch are all detonators designed to spark the acquisitive curiosity of a returning civilian, who would be maimed or murdered by the explosion.

An ordinary hose lying across a road is another simple but ingenious detonator. A bundle of old clothes, which a dog or cat could step across without harm, would have exploded if someone had picked it up to reclaim or throw away. A pile of mud and stones is a concealed mortar. A discarded piece of plywood would have activated a bomb when it was picked up or kicked aside, as a ball bearing rolled down a tube to complete the circuit. Duct tape, a lever and a trip wire turn a door into a deadly weapon.

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