We came across a news item from the war front that caught our eye: “A bomb attached to a bicycle exploded outside a seminary in southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 14 people…No one immediately claimed responsibility, and the motive for the bombing was unclear.” This Associated Press story sends a chill down the spine. Combatants in every war zone act according to often unclear motives, but how frequently are bicycles turning up in nontraditional combat situations?
It turns out that the bombing at the Quetta seminary (just this past June 8th) is representative of a relatively small but worrisome pattern. In the last decade, we’ve seen incident after incident in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkey and elsewhere where bikes are deployed in asymmetrical warfare. Iraq Body Count has inventoried as many as 23 bicycle-involved bombings since that invasion commenced. It represents just .1% of all incidents, but a quick web search turns up fifty such incidents in only the last few years. Reports from Afghanistan count 16 just since 2006 and in Pakistan 11 since 2008. And these are just the internationally-reported incidents.
The bicycle-borne bomb or bike-equipped bomber it is not a novel invention. An IRA bombing in Coventry (UK) in 1939 killed five people, injured 100 and left behind a twisted frame. In the birthplace of British cycling, a bomb planted in a front basket, wrapped in brown paper and string and detonated with a simple alarm clock, heralded the arrival of the bike as a new means for mobilizing terror. Simon Shaw recounts in forensic detail the Coventry bombing:
On Tuesday 22nd August 1939 James McCormick (alias James Richards), the leader of the I.R.A. unit operating in Coventry, and another unknown I.R.A. man visited the shop of the Halford Cycle Company in Smithford Street, where McCormick purchased a Halford ‘Karriwell’ – a tradesman type cycle built for Halford by the Birmingham Bicycle Company which had a carrier basket to the front of the handlebars. He gave a false name….The unknown bomb maker completed his task the following morning. It was a 5lb device with an alarm clock used as the timer…The bomb maker placed it in the carrier basket and began his journey into town.
Coventry wasn’t the end of it; Britain suffered additional bicycle-laden bombs over the years. As recently as 2010, the Ireland police services dodged a bomb lobbed by a bike-riding assailant, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly.
What these situations have in common is the ubiquitous bicycle as a tool for bringing death and mayhem to city streets. No more just a means of personal mobility, the humble bike is variously the carrier for the bomber, the bomb-laden saddlebag, or even an integral part of the bomb itself. A cross-section of media reports suggest how pervasive is the bicycle-laden bomb:
- “A bicycle bomb exploded at a busy northwestern Pakistan hotel on Thursday, killing at least 10 people, wounding 14 and destroying the building… The bomb was planted on a bicycle parked in the front courtyard of the hotel in the town of Nowshera.” Pakistan August 2011.
- “A bicycle bomb wounded seven people including a police officer in Istanbul Thursday…An electric bicycle with the explosive device planted on it was left close to a nearby police technical college.” Turkey, May 2011.
- “A bicycle bomb near the Ghazni City police station wounded 13 civilians.” Afghanistan, May 2011.
- “….a booby trapped bicycle exploded at a popular fruit and vegetable market near Hillah, the capital of Iraq’s Babil province, 60 miles south of Baghdad. Thirty-seven people were wounded in the attack…” Iraq, November 2009.
- “At least seven people have been killed in two bomb blasts in India’s north-eastern state of Assam…Police said the two devices were mounted on bicycles left near a Nalbari police station and some 25 other people were hurt.” India, November 2009.
- “…explosives-laden bicycle struck a restaurant shortly before 8 a.m. in downtown Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding 18.” Iraq, August 2009.
- “Suicide bombers on bicycles killed at least four policemen in the capital of Russia’s mainly Muslim region of Chechnya.” Russia, August 2009.
- “A remote-controlled bomb on a bicycle killed two policemen and an Afghan civilian in the southern city of Kandahar Tuesday…Witnesses said the bomb, planted on the bicycle, went off as a police pickup truck was driving by.” Afghanistan, January 2009.
- “A bomb hidden in a bicycle outside a Sunni mosque killed three worshippers and wounded eight others leaving evening prayers at the Omer Bin Abdul Aziz mosque just north of Baghdad.” Iraq, August 2008.
- “Almost two kilogrammes of the C-4 explosive packed with half a kilogramme of pellets and nuts were planted on a bicycle…at the chain cover…The blast left a 2 by 4 feet wide and one foot deep crater.” Pakistan, August 2008.
The list goes on and on. In the west, the authorities have taken notice. In Britain, that early experience with the Coventry bicycle-borne bomb may have sensitized them to the possibility of “pipe bombs in disguise,” so police confiscate unattended bikes near Parliament. In New York, in 2010, the NYPD impounded hundreds of bikes when the President visited.
Maybe American authorities took a closer look at This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb, a ‘folk-punk’ band from the South with an attention-getting name. After a debut record 15 years ago and then a 2011 reunion tour, the band called it quits. Perhaps the feds attended one of their concerts with some re-branding advice?
In a twist on the theme, Bikes Not Bombs in Massachusetts recycles bikes and parts to support micro-enterprise in Latin America and Africa (as well as to supply the needy here at home). That’s putting the bike & bomb concept to good use, we think – a counter to the bad rap that some of the bad guys have put to the ol’ boneshaker. We’ve got challenges enough being perceived as road-borne renegades without being tarred by the ‘terrorist’ brush too!