Review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesí
Implementation of the Safe Explosives Act

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2005-005
March 2005
Office of the Inspector General

Appendix I
Domestic and Foreign Bombing Incidents

Domestic bombing incidents

According to data we obtained from the ATF’s Arson and Explosives National Repository, law enforcement agencies in the United States reported 349 non-incendiary bombing incidents in 2002, 362 in 2003, and 160 in the first nine months of 2004. The most common substances used in these bombings were black powder, flash powder, or common chemicals contained in household products that were combined to make an explosive mixture.87 Over the almost 3-year period, these substances accounted for 54 percent of all explosive materials used in illegal actual bombing incidents.88 Of all bombings reported to the ATF, 18 percent involved explosives subject to the provisions of the SEA. Of these, 91 percent of the incidents involved common fireworks or their components. Pipe bombs were used in 47 percent of all reported bombings.

According to National Repository data, 8 people were killed and 49 people were injured by explosives from January 2002 through December 2004. Explosive powders, which may be obtained legally in quantities up to 50 pounds without a license or permit, were the largest cause of deaths and injuries. Over 50 percent of those killed and injured during this period were victims of explosive devices containing black powder. Twenty-five percent of those injured were victims of improvised explosives devices, many of which containing common chemicals.

Non-domestic terrorist use of explosives

The use of explosives is common in terrorist acts committed abroad. According to Department of State reports, 43 of 355 attacks in 2001 involved explosives, 83 of 198 in 2002 involved explosives, and 102 of 208 in 2003 involved explosives. In the 2003 attacks, a total of 625 persons were killed and 3,646 wounded. While the number killed was 100 fewer than the 725 killed during 2002, there was a sharp increase of more than 1,600 in the number of persons wounded (2,013) in 2002. Thirty-five U.S. citizens died in international terrorist attacks in 2003. Of the 35, 26 were killed in bombings.

According to Department of State data, the 2003 increase resulted from numerous indiscriminate attacks on “soft targets,” such as places of worship, hotels, and commercial districts that were intended to produce mass casualties. Based on the descriptions of terrorist incidents contained in the State Department’s 2003 “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report, we determined that:

  • 20 incidents involved bombs or explosives in vehicles;
  • 27 incidents involved military ordinance (grenades, rockets, or land mines);
  • 9 incidents involved suicide bombers (non-vehicular);
  • 14 incidents involved unknown bombs or devices targeting buildings; and
  • 32 incidents involved unknown bombs or devices targeting people.


  1. The SEA did not change the regulations governing explosive powders that may be easily and legally obtained in quantities up to 50 pounds without a license or permit.
  2. These totals include only actual bombings in which the bombs’ primary component was something other than a flammable liquid. Since incendiary bombings involve combustible materials that fall outside of the scope of the SEA, they were not included. In addition, the totals do not include attempted bombing (incidents in which an unexploded device was discovered) or premature explosions (incidents in which the explosive device detonated before the bomber intended, usually injuring the bomber). If all of the above categories were included, the total number of bombings would have been 492 in 2003, 469 in 2002, and 239 in the first nine months of 2004.

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