Explosive-makers are skilled and highly-valued by insurgents and terrorists. They have to properly mix the chemicals in the right proportions to create a stable and usable explosive device.

Suicide vests, IEDs, and other bombs require skilled bomb-makers. Bomb-makers are spreading across the world. Many are contractors for hire on the global black market.

This started during the Cold War. Communist insurgents needed explosives experts who were often in short supply. They innovated a way to transfer experts and advisors from one theater to another. Many experts were Soviet advisors because the insurgencies were sponsored by states, but after the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been a rise in freelancers.

Many nationalists and communists became explosive experts to support wars in their own country. Usually, these insurgents and terrorists lost. When your war ended, what do you do? Some turned into freelancers, selling their skills on the global market. There’s always a war going on somewhere. So when the IRA stopped fighting in Northern Ireland, some IRA men left the country and sold their services to others, like FARC in Colombia. IRA bomb-making specialists advised and trained FARC bomb-makers.

Al-Qaeda discovered this contracting method recently and expanded its potential. They realized that centralized training camps were too dangerous and inefficient. These days, al-Qaeda helps bomb-making specialists move from country to country.

The basic ingredients of an IED are known in the business as SPICE — switch, power source, initiator, compartment and explosives.

We’re seeing bomb-makers become specialists, rather than building the entire bomb themselves. This spreads out the skills to make the network less vulnerable to precision strikes. One man who makes the entire bomb is a prized asset but an easy target. It’s better to have 40 guys making individual parts which can be assembled elsewhere. Bigger networks, which coordinate through black market contracts, can produce more and better bombs with less risk.

This is connected with an evolutionary arms race. The Americans and others develop countermeasures to disarm IEDs and other explosives. The bomb-makers have to constantly change their triggering devices to beat the latest countermeasure.

And so the bomb-makers continue to sell their services. It’s almost a criminal business at this point in time.

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