IED precursors

Material Harm: Conclusions and recommendations

This is a section of AOAV’s report, ‘Material Harm’. The full report can be read here. The first part, on IED basics, can be seen here. The section exploring homemade explosive materials is here. To read the section on military and commercial explosive materials go here. The investigation also includes a review of IED components and measures to prevent their spread – to read this click here.


From Iraq to Ireland, Afghanistan to Nigeria, Thailand to Russia, IEDs have claimed thousands of lives and torn apart communities. States and international organisations have been slow to respond collectively to this international security problem, but in the past decade there have been numerous counter-IED programmes and innovative technological responses, as well as strict national and regional regulations put in place.

Globally there is clearly a growing awareness on the storage and security of materials that could potentially be used in IEDs.

Yet as AOAV has shown, an increasing number of civilians have been killed and injured by IEDs around the world. As such, more clearly needs to be done.

Homemade explosives can be easily smuggled through porous borders, and it is all too easy
for commercial explosives and detonators to be diverted onto the black market. Unsecured stockpiles of fertiliser and commercial explosives used in the mining and construction industry can also be raided. While military stockpiles, as we have recently seen, can be looted by armed groups and used against the most advanced militaries, causing a significant loss of life.

This report has shown that there is a vast amount of practical measures being taken that can be modelled and adopted by other counter-IED actors.

There needs to be a greater awareness of the number of civilians killed and injured each year by IEDs, and a greater condemnation of their use, from both political and religious figures.

Information sharing between countries should
not be overlooked if there is to be a joined-up
and concerted effort to reduce global IED harm. According to Professor Oxley, co-director of the Center of Excellence in Explosives Detection, Mitigation and Response at the University of Rhode

Island, “There is an amazing amount of stuff going on right now, there really is. There’s more communication between countries than there ever has been. There’s also a fair amount of funding, so I think we’re doing pretty good.

There are strong networks of information shar
ing around the world, but the difficulty lies with engaging countries that have a reputation of keeping information on materials that could be used for the construction of IEDs to themselves. As former senior bomb disposal officer Michael Cardash of the Israeli police states: “I would say the biggest problem, and an easy one to solve, is sharing knowledge. People don’t like to share knowledge.

He continues: “Countries don’t like to share knowledge, but it saves a lot of money because you will find that some countries are working on the same projects all over the world, trying to work on the same problems all over the world. And instead of sharing the knowledge, they’re wasting a lot of money trying to find solutions.

Data collection on IED use, and sharing this data, would help bodies including law enforcement, scientists, academics and NGOs.

Engaging with private industries, for example, to establish a database on the characteristics of their detonators would aid authorities in establishing the chain of supply, and identify where detonators used in IEDs are originating.

Measures can then be implemented to attempt to prevent such material being used to create IEDs.

In short counter-IED efforts have come a long way in the past decades. However, as the threat from a wide range of insurgents and armed actors continues to shift elusively these efforts must
also expand and change to meet them. New technologies may improve detection and control mechanisms but can equally be harnessed by IED users to develop new deadly dangers to civilians.

Ultimately one of our greatest weapons against IEDs lies in strong, well-enforced regulation. At the moment however, it is one of our greatest weaknesses.

Regulations governing restrictions on precursor materials fail to stop the spread of IEDs if they are not implemented properly. At the same time, greater restrictions are not always the best solution, as they may place a high burden on private industries and damage the economy, particularly in developing nations.

Governments and the private sector should work together to establish cost-effective ways to curtail the flow of IED materials, both within and across borders.


  • States and international organisations should work collaboratively to generate greater awareness of the number of civilians killed and injured each year by IEDs, and encourage a greater stigma from political, religious and social leaders on the use of IEDs.
  • Deaths and injuries caused by IEDs, and all forms of armed violence, should be promptly and accurately recorded. Such recording is not only a basic right of every victim, but can help provide evidence to prevent and reduce the impact of armed violence.
  • Victims of IED attacks should receive a full range of support including treatment for both physical and psychological harm. States should work to recognise and support the rights of victims.
  • More research is needed to explore the long-term and indirect harm of IED attacks in populated areas. In particular studies on victims of less high profile attacks would be important contributions as would research on the mental health effects of living with IED threats.

Homemade explosive material

  • All states should increase efforts to control access to the components of IEDs, including addressing the transfer and trade of illicit materials.
  • States should sign up and support the work of Programme Global Shield, and should provide resources to ensure its continuing survival.
  • As a matter of urgent priority states should share purchase information of large or suspicious transactions of precursor materials between countries and its law enforcements, as well as the industries that produce and sell precursor materials.

Commercial explosive material

  • States and the private sector should both give and ask for support to secure stockpiles of explosives and detonators in the mining and construction industry need greater security.
  • States and the private sector should work together to create a database containing detonator manufacturers and the characteristics
of their detonators, such as serial numbers or other distinguishing markings, would be beneficial to the international community. Such a database would allow detonators to be traced back to their point of origin.

Military explosive material

  • States, the private sector and international organisations should create a greater aware- ness that unsecured stockpiles, whether fertiliser stockpiles, stockpiles of commercial or military explosives and detonators, is a source for those who manufacture IEDs.
  • Securing stockpiles must be a high priority for invading forces and states involved in armed conflict. Stockpiles must be guarded to prevent those who wish to make IEDs from accessing the material.