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An Anatomy of a Grenade Attack: The Report

Introduction

In support of the Government of Ireland’s ‘Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that can arise from the use of Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects in Populated Areas’, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has produced five reports examining the impacts of manufactured weapons with wide area effects commonly used in populated areas. Each report is presented as ‘An Anatomy’ of a specific weapon type.

Employing UNIDIR’s ‘Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’ (EWIPA indicators) as a framework for analysing the immediate and long-term impacts from explosive weapons, AOAV looks to investigate the typical patterns of harm produced by specific manufactured weapons. 

The five reports examine, in turn, grenades, airstrikes, landmines, Grad multiple launch rocket systems (MLRSs) and mortars to draw out comparative conclusions about the impacts of these weapons in populated areas. 

This report explores the anatomy of a hand grenade attack. A hand grenade is a small missile filled with a high explosive filling or chemical agent intended for hand delivery against enemy personnel or material at short ranges. For the price of a can of Coca-Cola, so small they can fit in a pocket, and with the potential to produce double and even triple figure casualties, hand grenades are unique among explosive weapons. Grenades are found in every weapons arsenal from the United States to Al-Shabaab, and have more recently become the weapon of choice for Swedish gangs operating in the suburbs of Stockholm and Malmo. Hand-held, under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers are classified by the UN as light weapons.

AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
Credit: AP Photo/Kevin Frayer

The devastating effects of grenades were played out at Machakos Country Bus Station in Nairobi, Kenya on 10 March 2012. Four grenades were hurled at a busy bus depot from a moving car during Nairobi’s peak rush hour, causing death, injury, and property damage. 

This ‘anatomy’ report explores the hand grenade through the prism of a single attack, and then offers up a wider analysis of what that attack tells us about the predictable harm such a weapon might cause. By examining grenade attacks both through a single case study and globally, this report aims to draw conclusions on the typical patterns of harm this weapon produces when deployed in populated areas. 

UNIDIR Indicators 


Published in February 2021, UNIDIR’s ‘Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’ (EWIPA indicators) provides a reference framework for measuring the harm inflicted by explosive weapons in populated areas. 

The 28 indicators act as a ‘menu of ideas’ to better document the ‘knock-on effects’ of explosive violence and to highlight the ways in which explosive weapons impact the complex ‘ecosystem’ of urban environments. 

UNIDIR divides these indicators into four focus areas aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • SDG 16 – Peace, justice, and strong institutions.
  • SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities.
  • SDG 3 – Good health and well-being.
  • SDG 4 – Inclusive quality education, lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Each focus area is further subdivided into first, second and third-level impacts as a way of mediating between the immediate and reverberating effects of explosive weapons. Altering the traditional disaggregation of primary, secondary and tertiary (or reverberating) effects, UNIDIR incorporates primary and secondary blast destruction into first level impacts, whilst dividing reverberating effects into second and third-level impacts. 

In so doing, the indicators serve to explore the multifaceted nature of reverberating effects, rather than viewing them as fixed, homogeneous consequences.  

Figure 1: UNIDIR; first level, second level and third level indicators. 

Methodology

Structured using UNIDIR’s EWIPA indicators, this report combines an in-depth examination of a single grenade attack with wider research into this weapon’s global use. For each indicator, analysis is provided both for the case study, and for global patterns more generally. Although relying heavily on the EWIPA indicators to provide a clear framework, AOAV has chosen to aggregate third-level indicators into a single section due to the difficulties associated in calculating reverberating harm for single weapon types.

For the case study research, AOAV visited Nairobi, Kenya in March 2021 and conducted interviews with victims, emergency services personnel, journalists, former members of the General Service Unit (a paramilitary wing in the Kenya Police Service), bus station officials, and local residents. The findings of these interviews have been assessed alongside a forensic analysis of official records of the attack as well as coverage from local media outlets and social media witness statements. 

For global patterns of harm, desk-based research into grenade attacks globally was combined with data from AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor (EVM) between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2020. AOAV does not suggest that this method captures every explosive incident involving grenades over the past decade. The EVM only records incidents mentioned in English-language news sources and specific weapon types are often mis-referenced – or not referenced at all. As a result, it is likely that EVM data underestimates the full extent of grenade attacks in the past decade but provides a useful impression of patterns of harm.

Unless specified, data on the global use of mortars has been extracted from AOAV’s EVM. 

The Report:

Chapter 1: Global Trends
Chapter 2: Case Study – Nairobi, Kenya
Chapter 3: SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Chapter 4: SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
Chapter 5: SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being
Chapter 6: SDG 4 – Quality Education
Chapter 7: Other Considerations
Conclusion and Recommendations

Research support by: Duncan Stewart and Martha Greenhough


Series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack

In support of the Government of Ireland’s ‘Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that can arise from the use of Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects in Populated Areas’, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has produced five reports examining the impacts of manufactured weapons with wide area effects commonly used in populated areas. Each report is presented as ‘An Anatomy’ of a specific weapon type.

Employing UNIDIR’s ‘Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’ (EWIPA indicators) as a framework for analysing the immediate and long-term impacts from explosive weapons, AOAV looks to investigate the typical patterns of harm produced by specific manufactured weapons. 

The five reports examine, in turn, grenades, airstrikes, landmines, Grad multiple launch rocket systems (MLRSs) and mortars to draw out comparative conclusions about the impacts of these weapons in populated areas.

More in this series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack


Related Reports: What is a Hand Grenade?

Sometimes bought as cheaply as a can of Coca-Cola. So small they can fit in your pocket. And packing the potential to cause double and even triple figure casualties, hand grenades are unique among explosive weapons. Grenades are found in every weapons arsenal around the world, from the United States to Al-Shabaab, and, more recently, have become a weapon of choice for Swedish gangs operating in the suburbs of Stockholm and Malmo, these devices have a long and disturbing history. 

Technically, a hand grenade is a small missile filled with a high explosive filling or a chemical agent, intended for hand delivery against enemy personnel or material at short ranges. Hand-held, under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers are all classified by the UN as light weapons.  

In practise, they have taken the lives of countless soldiers and civilians and are one of the more widespread explosive weapons in the world.