By Chief Superintendent (ret.) Michael Cardash
On July 17, 2022, a motorcycle VBIED was initiated against a police patrol in the town of El Bardo, in Cauca department, in southwestern Colombia. The motorcycle VBIED was initiated as a police vehicle was driving past. A civilian on a motorcycle passing by on the opposite side of the street at the moment of the blast was killed. 13 other people were injured, six of whom were police officers.
The IED, which contained fragmentation, specifically targeted the police vehicle and appears to have been RC initiated by an operator with line of sight to the target. The blast effect was limited, presumably as a result of a relatively small quantity of explosives in the main charge IED.
The use of motorcycle VBIEDs is one of the FARC dissidents’ preferred attack TTPs against security forces in Colombia, especially in Cauca department, in recent years. To date, these have been mainly motorcycle VBIEDs with quite large main charge IEDs, targeting police stations and government buildings. In the last year, a new trend can be identified, mainly motorcycle VBIEDs with relatively small explosive payloads specifically targeting moving police vehicles or police officers/ bomb disposal technicians called to examine the motorcycles.
The motorcycle VBIED was parked on the corner of an intersection, next to an electricity pole, near a restaurant, and was initiated as the police vehicle turned onto the street. The IED contained fragmentation that impacted the back of the vehicle, as well as the wall of the nearby restaurant.
The deceased civilian, Marcel Eduardo Góngora Mosquera, was the owner of a restaurant outside which the motorcycle VBIED was parked, and he happened to be driving past (on his motorcycle) opposite the scene of the blast, exactly as the motorcycle VBIED initiated. He was severely injured and died a few hours later in the hospital.
The Carlos Patiño FARC dissident front is believed to be responsible for the attack. A poster with images of the leaders of the group was released by the Police on July 18, 2022, offering a monetary reward for any information leading to their arrest.
The use of motorcycle VBIEDs by FARC dissidents against police targets in the Cauca area has been known since August 2018, with the motorcycles mainly parked near police stations.
Within a 24-hour period between August 6 and 7, 2018, several targets were attacked, in the course of which, a police officer was killed and four others were injured.
Motorcycle VBIED attacks targeting police stations and government buildings in Cauca continued throughout 2019, with two discovered and neutralized during 2020.
On March 26, 2019, a motorcycle VBIED was initiated outside the parking lot of the city hall in the town of Miranda, in Cauca department.
On September 21, 2019, at 1:40 AM, a motorcycle VBIED initiated outside the headquarters of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Police Station in Corinto, in Cauca department. The explosion caused damage to buildings, but nobody was injured. The attack was attributed to the 6th Front of the FARC dissidents.
On December 13, 2019, a motorcycle VBIED initiated in front of the offices of the Municipal Traffic Secretariat in the Puerto Nuevo neighborhood of the town of Florida, in Valle del Cauca department, close to the border with Cauca department, causing only minor material damage.
The attack was attributed to the Dagoberto Ramos Front of the FARC dissidents.
On February 14, 2022, a motorcycle VBIED planted outside a police station in Caloto, in Cauca department, was initiated.
According to reports, two men drove the motorcycle to the target location, dismounted, and then immediately fled the scene. The motorcycle VBIED initiated, injuring three people.
After the attack, local residents found several notes near the scene with threatening messages signed by members of the Dagoberto Ramos FARC dissident front, one of which included an image of an armed FARC-EP member shooting a rifle at a pig, addressed to President Iván Duque, stating if he did not respect them, they would continue to carry out attacks, signed by Stiven and Chinga of the Dagoberto Ramos Front.
In our estimation, the motorcycle VBIED attacks adjacent to buildings, when the intent is to produce damage to the building’s surroundings, comprise IEDs with explosive payloads of just a few kilograms, placed under the seat of the motorcycle, fitted with a delay timer or RC initiation system, where the operator does not have to have line of sight or even be present in the area close to the scene of the initiation. Of note, in most of the incidents reviewed above, the addition of fragmentation to the main charge explosive was not evidenced.
Unlike motorcycle VBIEDs intended to be initiated near a building, in the motorcycle VBIED attack against the police vehicle on July 17, 2022, a relatively small amount of explosives with fragmentation was used. Using a motorcycle VBIED for a focused targeted attack against a specific target, such as a police vehicle or a member of the security forces requires knowledge of the target’s routine or alternatively, a plan to summon him to the scene to a specific point, and then initiating an IED when the target of the attack is in close proximity.
On May 12, 2022, at about 8:20 PM, a motorcycle VBIED was initiated on a bridge in Caloto, Cauca, near the old prison, at the exit to Santander de Quilichao.
An 18-year-old woman was injured in the blast.
A call for help had been received by the Police in the vicinity of the same bridge that night, so the presumption is the Police were the target.
On June 16, 2022, a motorcycle VBIED parked at the back of a police station in Suárez, in Cauca department, initiated while it was being inspected by a bomb disposal officer.
According to reports, before officer Yorman Cortés Acosta approached the motorcycle, an explosives detection canine was sent to the scene but did not identify the presence of explosives. A robot was also reportedly sent to the scene but was not useful in locating the IED.
In the documentation of the incident, the bomb disposal officer approached the motorcycle VBIED, wearing a protective suit, and examined it from both sides, after which he can be seen gripping something protruding from the motorcycle seat, and pulling hard, while placing his left leg on the motorcycle, at which point an explosion occurred. As a result of the explosion, the officer’s left foot was badly injured, and he suffered grade III burns to his upper limbs.
According to reports, the motorcycle VBIED was RC initiated from afar and contained metal ball fragmentation that notably failed to penetrate the protective suit.
The commander of Region 4 of the Police, Brigadier General Pablo Ferney Ruiz Garzón, claimed the FARC dissident Jaime Martinez Front was responsible for the attack, and offered a COP 50 million (about US$ 11,240) reward for information leading to the capture of the attack perpetrator.
From the analysis of the incident – the effects, and the injuries suffered by the bomb disposal officer, who was next to the motorcycle VBIED at the time of the explosion – we estimate the size of the main charge IED was up to 1 kg and the protective equipment the officer was wearing saved his life. His main injuries were to the parts of his body that were adjacent to the IED – his left leg, and his hands, which were mostly damaged by burns.
As stated, the motorcycle VBIED was reportedly fitted with an RC initiation system. In previous documentation of the neutralization of a motorcycle VBIED on March 10, 2020, near the mayor’s offices and the police station in Pradera, in Valle de Cauca department, the bomb disposal officer who successfully neutralized the motorcycle VBIED approached it wearing protective equipment, and carried electronic jamming equipment to protect against RC initiation systems. According to the report, the neutralized IED contained about 800 grams of Pentolite explosive.
A summary of our analysis of the incidents involving motorcycle VBIEDs in the Cauca area indicates these motorcycle VBIEDs are intended to be initiated near buildings, including police stations and government buildings, and they contain just a few kilograms of explosives.
Motorcycle VBIEDs intended for use in more focused attacks targeting a police vehicle or a police officer approaching to examine the motorcycle, contain a smaller quantity of explosives (usually up to 1 kilogram,) in addition to metal ball fragmentation.
To validate our assessment, in the documentation of motorcycle VBIEDs seized or neutralized in recent years in the Cauca region, motorcycle VBIEDs with main charge IEDs weighing several kilograms, as well as motorcycle VBIEDs with smaller main charge IEDs of up to one kilogram can be seen.
On June 8, 2020, a Police patrol noticed a Honda Hero motorcycle being abandoned by its riders on the Popayán-Cali highway. The motorcycle had an unusual configuration and the officers discovered a hollow under the gas tank that contained an IED comprising 1 kg of AN, detonating cord and an electric detonator, taped between three packages of marijuana.
The Police believe the intention of the riders was for the Police to notice the motorcycle and come close to examine the marijuana, at which time, they would initiate the motorcycle VBIED.
On March 13, 2021, two men riding on a motorcycle were arrested by soldiers from the 30th Brigade of the Colombian Army in Tibú, in Norte de Santander. The motorcycle they were riding had no license plates and they were moving in a suspicious manner. A 9 mm pistol and eight bullets were recovered from their possession.
Although initially, the officers only discovered the weapon and ammunition, minutes later, they transferred the motorcycle to the police station, where they discovered an IED, connected to wires, under the seat of the motorcycle.
The motorcycle VBIED was ascribed to the 33rd Front of the FARC dissidents.
On March 13, 2022, a motorcycle VBIED parked in an unpopulated area on the road from Santander de Quilichao, in the north of Cauca department, which leads to Jamundí, in Valle de Cauca, was neutralized.
Investigators claimed the motorcycle VBIED was going to be used for an attack in northern Cauca. It reportedly contained explosives cased in two plastic tubes connected with detonating cord, in addition to a battery and an electric detonator, and was fitted with a car alarm-based RC initiation system.
The use of motorcycle VBIEDs to attack specific targets in the last year appears to be a new TTP employed by FARC dissident groups in the Cauca area of Colombia.
The number of places where an IED can be concealed on a motorcycle is limited, especially motorcycles with no storage boxes, while motorcycles with no storage boxes are less likely to be suspected of being motorcycle VBIEDs.
The initiation of motorcycle VBIEDs with relatively small main charge IEDs against specific targets, whether a police vehicle or a member of the security forces approaching to inspect the motorcycle, requires a well-timed initiation, when the target is as close as possible to the motorcycle. For this purpose, RC initiation systems are used, and the operator must remain in proximity, with line of sight to the target, in order to succeed in creating the maximum impact effect upon initiation of the VBIED.
In the attack targeting the police vehicle in July 2022, it is evident the motorcycle VBIED was initiated after the vehicle entered the intersection, when the back of the vehicle was in front of the IED. There are benches in the back of these kinds of police vehicles where police officers sit, exposed.
The addition of fragmentation to the small motorcycle VBIED main charge IEDs used for targeted attacks produces an increased impact effect and increased range, and compensates for the smaller amount of explosives used. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chief Superintendent (ret.) Michael Cardash, Senior bomb technician and former deputy head of the Israeli police bomb disposal division, commanded bomb disposal units within the border guards and police during intense terrorist conflicts in Israel. Michael currently is the senior CIED analyst at Terrogence- Global, researches IED’s and authors the Terrogence Möbius C-IED reports analyzing and assessing global IED-related technical and tactical intelligence.