It’s the most high-pressure job in the world – working on the bomb squad. One second, you could be scouting the scene, and the next you’re hunched over a ticking explosive, trying to keep a steady hand and a steady mind as you cut that one tiny wire. At stake? Your life, and maybe the lives of countless people in the surrounding area. Check out how bomb squads have literally saved the world in today’s insanely epic new!
It’s the most high-pressure job in the world – working on the bomb squad. One second, you could be scouting the scene, and the next you’re hunched over a ticking explosive, trying to keep a steady hand and a steady mind as you cut that one tiny wire. At stake? Your life, and maybe the lives of countless people in the surrounding area. But without them, we’d all be in a lot of trouble. Here are some of the most insane times the bomb squad saved the world – or at least a whole lot of innocent lives. How did the bomb squad get started?
Well, first there needed to be bombs. But ironically, the first time a group like this was started wasn’t in response to an attack. It was in response to a horrible accident in 1874. A barge named Tilbury was sailing through the Regent’s Canal in London when something went horribly wrong. A fire on the boat ignited the cargo – which included five tons of gunpowder and six barrels of petroleum.
The deadly combination went up like a million fireworks, and not only destroyed the boat and killed everyone on it, but created a massive explosion that destroyed a nearby bridge. It even damaged the cages at the nearby London Zoo – no doubt creating an interesting day for the zookeepers. And suddenly, having unregulated explosives roaming around didn’t seem like such a good idea. Sir Vivian Dering Majendie, a Major in the Royal Artillery, investigated the case and later proposed the first dedicated law for explosives control.
Determined to prevent future tragedies like the Regent’s Canal incidents, he developed many techniques for disarming explosives – some of which are still used today. That turned out to be an opportune development – as Irish Republican radicals soon stepped up a massive bombing campaign against London in the 1880s. His techniques saved a host of lives, most notably when a bombing at Victoria Station involved a new clockwork bomb – one that Majendie personally disarmed as it was potentially counting down to explode! Word soon spread – and his innovations would have a long legacy.
The New York Police Department would establish its own bomb squad only twenty years later, in response to a wave of Mafia bombings that were used to blackmail vendors into paying them protection money. Then came the First World War, when munitions development ramped up massively and land mines became a key part of combat. Being able to defuse bombs was no longer solely a matter of preventing casualties – it could change the course of the war. By the time the war was over, the essential nature of having a bomb squad was clear to everyone, and soon most modern militaries and police forces would be training specialists. And it was a good thing – because after the World Wars, terrorism would quickly become a massive concern. And over the decades, the bomb squads of various countries have had their moments to shine.
The year was 2020, and ever since the United Kingdom had voted for Brexit, there was a lot of debate on whether it would actually happen. Years of arguments over new referendums were over, and amid the growing fears over a pandemic, the UK was about to leave the European Union. But that wasn’t the only conflict the country was involved in – and old enemies were about to remind them of that.
The Continuity IRA, a militant Irish Republican group, had long rejected the Good Friday Accords and believed that a unified Ireland was the only way forward – even if they had to go against their own people’s desire for peace. While they rarely made the news, that changed at the Silverwood industrial estate in Lurgan. Police had noticed something unusual about a refrigerated trailer, and when security arrived it became clear why – there was a bomb attached to the base, and the trailer was bound for a sea ferry that would be arriving in London on Brexit Day! Naturally, the bomb squad was called in.
They soon discovered a few things. For one thing, the bomb was definitely viable – and live. It was on a timer, and resembled past IRA bombs. History showed that the plan likely wasn’t to blow up the ferry, but to transport the bomb over to England covertly and deliver it to the actual target. It was a low-tech bomb, attached with magnets, but had a powerful payload. It was carefully dismantled by the bomb squad in Ireland, and the threat was averted, with the Continuity IRA soon taking credit for the planned attack.
The bomb may not have been the most powerful, but the attack could have been massively dangerous for another reason – a major attack in London on Brexit Day could have easily unraveled the Good Friday Accords and resulted in an escalation of hostilities between Great Britain and Ireland just as the issue of the sea border was unresolved – and who knows where that could have ended. But it wasn’t just countries with ongoing conflicts that need their bomb squad on alert.
The Gronland sector of Oslo is usually a pretty peaceful place, home to a large population of immigrants and a popular location for adventurous diners to try new cuisines. But the entire region of Scandinavia was on pins and needles in 2017 after a brutal truck attack in neighboring Stockholm. Police were on alert both for similar attacks from the same source – and possibly for retaliatory attacks from white supremacists.
They got their answer soon when a mysterious package was found in the city center, around a foot across. It fit the profile of a large bomb, but had no obvious features that would give it away – and tampering with it could easily set it off and kill anyone nearby. That’s one of the biggest challenges of the bomb squad – sometimes the only way to find out if something is a danger is to examine it, and sometimes the dangers announce themselves with a loud bang. But fortunately, the bomb squad has a new tool at their disposal.
Remember Wall-E? That loveable little robot? Well, he’s real – sort of. Bomb squads frequently handle examinations by sending in an advanced robot with a highly mobile arm to open potentially explosive packages without humans being put in danger. And they can neutralize these packages with miniature explosives of their own – containing and remotely detonating them. This is what happened to the mystery package in Oslo, although it wasn’t clear at first if there was an explosive involved. With the threat neutralized, the bomb squad’s investigators went to work – and where there was smoke, there was fire.
They quickly detained a suspect, who turned out to be a 17-year-old Russian citizen. While police initially suspected terrorism, the boy quickly said that it was just a prank. But the scare was enough for the Oslo police to raise the threat leve. Fortunately all the locals could breathe a sigh of relief when the bomb squad showed up. Sometimes, working for the bomb squad is more like being a detective. It was September 2016, and things were relatively calm in New York – well, besides that upcoming election. But terrorism was far from most people’s minds – until the bombs started going off.
The first, a small explosion of a pipe bomb in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, didn’t attract too much media attention. That changed when a larger pressure-cooker bomb exploded in the upscale Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, sending a steel dumpster flying into the air. Only four blocks away, a second bomb was discovered, and the next day a collection of bombs was found at a crowded New Jersey train station. Suddenly, it was clear – New York and New Jersey were under a campaign of terror, and no one knew when and where the next bomb would turn up. The bomb squad sprung into action, defusing bombs as they found them and hunting them down.
Most were low-yield devices designed to cause chaos rather than mass casualty events, but the explosions which did go off still left thirty-one people injured. It kicked off one of the biggest manhunts in the area in years. While the bomb squad was focused on defusing the bombs, they were also picking up vital clues about the culprit. While many were concerned that this was a new Al Qaeda plot targeting New York, it turned out that the suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahimi, was a lone wolf who had been radicalized online.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t a threat – he was finally captured in a shootout after injuring four police officers – but the residents of the two states were able to breathe a sigh of relief that a bigger attack wasn’t coming. The bomb squad’s job wasn’t done yet though- officers and robots continued to comb the scenes and search for any bombs left over, and the FBI was brought in to find evidence. Ultimately, it was DNA evidence that had led to Rahimi’s arrest – and his ultimate conviction at trial, where he received a life sentence in prison.
The incident raised people’s confidence that the bomb squad was good for more than taking on the bigger cases – they could find and neutralize small homemade bombs as well. And across the pond, the bomb squad managed to foil another potential disaster. It was 2007 in London, near the always-hot Tiger Tiger nightclub in the middle of the night, and revelers would likely be pouring out soon. And that’s where the trap was set. Two massive car bombs were placed around the area – likely timed to go off one after another, in a sinister tactic often used by terrorists. One goes off, causing mass chaos.
Then, as first responders arrive to tend to the wounded, the second bomb goes off. But this night luck was on the good guys’ side. First, one of the two cars was reported to the police for looking suspicious. The second was ticketed for illegal parking and towed – where the staff noticed it was stinking of gas. When they examined the devices, they were shocked – not only were the cars primed to explode, but they were packed with gas cylinders, petrol, and nails to create a hail of deadly shrapnel.
The bomb squad went to work, and defused both bombs without any explosions or injuries. But the hunt was just beginning. As the police investigated, they found ties to two men, Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed. Abdullah was arrested, but there were complications with Ahmed – he was in the hospital after barely surviving another terror attack he had been involved in at the Glasgow Airport! Needless to say that was an open-and-shut case to connect the two.
While he didn’t live to trial due to severe burns, his accomplice was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the attempted bombing. While that was a wrap on this case, the police continued to investigate co-conspirators and potentially found links to a deadly attack in India two years earlier. And by the end of the year, the bomb squad officers involved in defusing the bomb received some of the Queen’s highest awards for civilian bravery. And it’s not a surprise – it’s believed that if either bomb went off, they could have killed dozens.
Sometimes, the bomb squad has to get up close and personal. Air travel in 2009 was still a pretty tense affair – ever since the 9/11 attacks, security had increased massively. And after the shoe bomber a few years later, taking off your shoes at security had become business as usual. But what the authorities weren’t looking at yet was your underwear – and that was about to become a deadly weakness on Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
The flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was boarded by Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and he sailed through security – but he was concealing a secret. Sewn to his underwear were a set of chemical explosives, which on their own were harmless pouches of plastic explosive powder. But when combined with acid he would inject from a syringe, it would create a powerful explosive – which he intended to do mid-air, blowing up the airplane out of the sky and strike another devastating blow against the still-recovering American air industry.
But fortunately, there were some eagle-eyed passengers on board. As the plane began to descend, passengers noticed him heading to the bathroom frequently and trying to cover himself. He did manage to detonate the device – but it malfunctioned and set off several firecracker-like explosions in his underwear, burning him badly and lighting him on fire! Passengers and crew tackled and restrained him, and one man was burned trying to extinguish the fire.
The badly burned terrorist was soon detained by the bomb squad after the plane landed, and they managed to get what was left of the bomb off him safely and make sure it wasn’t going to cause any more explosions. He survived his injuries and would later face a trial that sent him to prison for life, but the bomb squad can get things wrong too – they briefly arrested another passenger on the flight after their bomb-sniffing dogs alerted them to a potential threat in the carry-on luggage.
Good boy, we know you tried your best. But sometimes, the bomb squad is trying to fend off a much bigger attack. Times Square is the heart of New York. Sure, it’s loaded with Broadway theaters that bring in billions of dollars each year, and some of the city’s most popular restaurants – even if many of them are the same ones you have in your local mall. It’s also home to the city’s most beloved icons – off-brand Elmo and the Naked Cowboy. It’s crowded with countless tourists and locals each day – which makes it a prime target for sinister terrorists. And that’s what happened in May 2010.
A pair of street vendors were going about their day when they noticed something unusual – smoke was coming from a Nissan Pathfinder parked nearby. They may have initially thought it was some dude hotboxing the car, but when police investigated, they found something very different. The car had a massive car bomb inside, and not just one – it was packed with charges. And they had already been ignited. Times Square was quickly evacuated, and the bomb squad came in fast.
The device had already failed to explode as planned, but the wrong move or too much time could set the charges off anyway. Inside, they found four different explosive devices linked together, made from components including alarm clocks, gasoline, gunpowder, propane tanks, a pressure cooker pot, fertilizer, and over forty fireworks! The bomb squad was able to successfully defuse it, and discovered that the wrong kind of fertilizer was used – it was a highly explosive bomb, but one that was incorrectly put together.
The culprit, Faisal Shahzad, was spotted on surveillance cameras nearby and quickly tracked down. In interrogations, the authorities discovered he had been trained in Pakistani terror camps to carry out Al Qaeda-inspired attacks – and he eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, while Times Square went back to packing in the tourists. But it wasn’t the biggest bomb defused – to find that, you have to go to the war front.
The Afghanistan War had been going on for over a decade by 2013, and car bombs were a common tactic used by Taliban-allied militants. But no one was prepared for what was found in Kabul – a truck bomb weighing more than 60,000 pounds! It was near the border to Pakistan when Afghan national forces – trained by the US military still present in the country – noticed something unusual in a truck approaching the Pakistani border. The bombs were the same type used in IEDs, the roadside bombs used to blow up military vehicles – but those are usually made up of only a few dozen pounds of homemade explosives.
While the device might be rudimentary, composed mostly of fertilizer, it packs a powerful punch – and when the officers realized what they were dealing with, they knew that this wasn’t just a standard bomb. It was the kind of bomb that could raze entire city blocks. How big was this bomb? The one that took down the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995 was less than 1/10th as large. The Afghan security forces encountered the truck, and the driver quickly tried to attack them with a grenade. While he was quickly neutralized, the security forces then discovered the massive explosive cache hidden under the wood in the truck.
The explosives hadn’t been set off yet, and were successfully neutralized – at which point the officers got on the case, and found ties to notorious Afghani terror groups known as the Haqqani Network. It was one of many attacks the Afghan Security Forces and the US military would foil as the war raged on for another eight years – until an abrupt US withdrawal from the fight left the Afghani people fighting a losing battle against the Taliban.
But where there’s no bomb squad, the people might make one of their own. Iraq was in a very similar situation to Afghanistan for much of the 2000s – after a United States invasion in the years after 9/11, the government was toppled and the fate of the country fell into the hands of multiple warring groups. Insurgents frequently targeted both US soldiers and rival political factions, and anyone traveling the roads would find themselves facing death from roadside bombs and potential attacks from rocket launchers or gunmen. While the latter could be avoided with a keen eye and taking the backroads, the IEDs could be buried deep under the ground and couldn’t be seen until they were driven over, causing a massive explosion. Few people were available to defuse the bombs, and those who were didn’t have precise tools – to say nothing of bomb-defusing robots.
But that didn’t stop the man nicknamed “Crazy Fakhir”. He was a one-man bomb-squad, and he did it all with simple tools like a knife and wire cutters. And he may have defused thousands of bombs. A former military Colonel, his name was Fakhir Berwari and he fought alongside the US in the early days of the war. In the aftermath, the countryside was littered with landmines – and Berwari lost a leg to a bomb in 2008. So he strapped on a prosthetic limb and went back to the fight against the terrorist group ISIS. And when he encountered a landmine, he would get down on the ground and fiddle at it with a knife, cutting the wires one by one until the threat was removed, ensuring no one else would lose a limb. It worked thousands of times, gaining him a reputation as one of post-war Iraq’s greatest heroes – until the one time it didn’t. While defusing landmines in a house in 2014, he set off an explosion and was killed – but his legacy would outlive his life. Word of his heroism spread around the world, and he became the subject of a documentary called “The Deminer”, using real footage shot during his career of heroism.
But once, the bomb squad was used in a completely different – and incredibly questionable way. It was 2016, and Dallas was one of many cities rocked by protests after controversial shootings by police officers. As activists rallied in the streets, one man took it much further. Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army reservist, drove near the protest and opened fire on a group of police officers, killing three before fleeing and kicking off a massive manhunt. Multiple shootouts followed, and Johnson killed two more officers before he entered a nearby college and holed up – wounded and heavily armed.
He was in a stairwell, giving him a massive advantage in any shootout. Micah and the SWAT team heavily engaged for several hours. Officers attempted to negotiate with him, but it became clear Johnson wasn’t thinking rationally. To try to enter the building would likely result in the deaths of more officers, and might even give Johnson the chance to get away. So the officers decided to call in the bomb squad. But Johnson didn’t have a bomb – did he? Johnson was only armed with a gun, but the bomb squad team deployed a bomb disposal vehicle operated by remote control and equipped it with a pound of C4 explosive.
They drove it to the wall facing Johnson – and detonated it, hitting Johnson with a massive explosion through the adjoining wall, killing him. The threat was neutralized, but news of the events leaked out and many people were shocked that what was essentially a remote-controlled drone was used to kill an active shooter on US soil – similarly to the way the US military assassinates terrorist leaders without ever putting boots on the ground. Advocates said that Johnson had already taken enough lives and this was the safest way to neutralize him.
Opponents called it an extralegal execution. Meanwhile, the people making the bomb disposal vehicles likely realized they might be getting a whole lot of new orders from police departments. But one of the most common tasks of the bomb squad isn’t deactivating car bombs or foiling terror attacks – it’s a lot older than that. There are a lot of old veterans out there, and they love to share their war mementos.
Maybe you remember grandpa talking about that chain he took off a Nazi. But some war trophies are probably better left back on the battlefield. After every war, there are a lot of unexploded weapons lying around. Some are left buried in the battlefield long after the war ends, waiting for the wrong person to stumble onto them. Others are taken home and stored in civilian homes. All of them look pretty non-threatening at first – especially if they’ve been sitting around for decades.
But even some World War II-era bombs are still live, and if someone drops them or touches the wrong part, they could suddenly deliver a payload that’s been coming for more than half a century – and a time-traveling explosion is no less deadly than a current one. That’s why, surprisingly, the bomb squad gets called in for this more often than you’d think. And sometimes, it’s a puzzle to figure out. The bomb squad is trained in high-tech modern bombs and the kind of makeshift bombs that are made by today’s terrorists. But some of these bombs have been unexploded since World War I – where so many bombs were dropped that some areas of France are still contaminated and designated as no-go zones a century later.
The FBI reports an average of one call a week in St. Louis alone to deal with decades-old explosives, with the most common case being that an elderly veteran passed away, his family were sorting through his belongings – and suddenly they find a live grenade stored in his knickknacks. While most of these aren’t likely to be high-yield explosives, they could still easily take out a house and everyone in it. So the bomb squad is called in, the weapons are detonated under controlled circumstances, and the living legacy of the World Wars gets a little closer to the end. At least when it comes to the ones brought home.
Countries around the world are still littered with landmines from past conflicts. Which means the bomb squad will likely be looking for new recruits for a long time. Are you looking for more heroic stories of bomb-defusers? Check out “Man Kidnapped and Blown Up By Mine, Returns For Revenge”, or watch “Weirdest Bomb Created By the US Military” instead.